On September 23, Senator Jason Lewis joined an overwhelming bipartisan majority of state senators to pass the Healthy Youth Act in the Massachusetts Senate. 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 as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Education, he was a leader in the Senate advocating its passage this session. The Senate also passed similar versions of the Healthy Youth Act in prior legislative sessions.
The Healthy Youth Act would ensure that Massachusetts schools electing to provide their students with sex education use age-appropriate and medically accurate curriculum that covers a comprehensive and inclusive range of topics.
Currently, when Massachusetts public schools provide their students with health education that covers sexual activity, there is no way to ensure that students are being taught research-informed and comprehensive curricula. Schools are still able to utilize ineffective and incomplete abstinence-only or abstinence-centered programming, as well as curricula that excludes important information for LGBTQ+ youth and critical lessons on consent.
The Healthy Youth Act 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: the benefits of delaying sex; effective contraceptive use; prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs); healthy relationship and communication skills; consent; and gender identity and sexual orientation.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education would also be required review and update the Massachusetts Comprehensive Health Curriculum Framework to be consistent with the provisions outlined in this legislation. The most recent Massachusetts Health Curriculum Framework is dated October 10, 1999. To ensure that the framework is periodically updated, DESE would also be required to review the framework at least every ten years.
This legislation does not require schools to offer sex education and also protects parents’ right to remove their children from all or part of sex education if they choose 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.
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.