BOSTON – Yesterday, the Massachusetts Senate passed S.2459, An Act relative to healthy youth. This bill will ensure that Massachusetts schools electing to provide their students with sex education use age-appropriate and medically accurate curriculum that covers a comprehensive range of topics. The legislation also calls for sex education to be inclusive and appropriate for students regardless of gender, race, disability status, sexual orientation and gender identity.
“Providing comprehensive, age-appropriate, and medically accurate information to our youth is the best way to prepare them to make safe and healthy choices,” said Senator Jason Lewis, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education. “I’m pleased that the Senate was able to advance this legislation that will strengthen education and reduce rates of teen pregnancy and transmission of sexually transmitted infections, while keeping parents informed as to students’ curricula.”
Senator Lewis is a longtime champion of this legislation, and was a leader in the Senate advocating its passage this session.
Currently, when Massachusetts public schools provide their students with health education that covers sexual activity, there is no guarantee that the information provided is age-appropriate or medically accurate. This legislation changes this by requiring school districts that offer sex education to follow certain guidelines to ensure students are provided with age-appropriate, medically accurate, and comprehensive information, including:
- benefits of delaying sex;
- human anatomy, reproduction, and sexual development;
- effective contraceptive use;
- prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs);
- relationship and communication skills to form healthy relationships;
- coverage of affirmative, conscious and voluntary consent; and
- age-appropriate information about gender identity and sexual orientation, including resources that offer support to LGBTQ students.
The Senate passed similar versions of the Healthy Youth Act in prior sessions and this most recent version incorporates additional feedback from experts as well as advocates. The legislation does not require schools to offer sex education and also protects parent’s’ right to remove their children from all or part of sex education if they chose to do so — an action protected by state law. In addition, it provides districts that teach sex education curriculum with updated guidance on how to notify parents about these programs.
Notification to parents and guardians must be in English, as well as any other commonly spoken languages by parents. Districts must also have a process for parents to review the program instruction materials prior to the start of the course, if the parents request it.
Sex education programs have repeatedly been shown to work best when they emphasize the value of delaying sex, while also teaching students about the importance of protecting themselves from unintended consequences. As demonstrated by numerous studies, comprehensive sex education programs are proven to delay the initiation of sex, increase use of contraception, lower the rates of STIs and unintended pregnancy among teens, and reduce reported levels of bullying towards LGBTQ youth in school.
A 2018 poll conducted by EMC Research showed overwhelming bipartisan support for sex education in Massachusetts, with 92% of likely voters agreeing that students should receive sex education in high school and 89% of likely voters agree that sex education should include comprehensive information, such as how to build healthy relationships and understand consent.
This bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.