On Thursday, the Massachusetts Senate voted to pass Senator Sal DiDomenico’s bill, An Act relative to healthy youth, (S.2534). This bill will ensure that Massachusetts public schools electing to teach sex education curriculum use age-appropriate, medically accurate, and research-based information 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.
“I am very proud that the Massachusetts Senate has again reaffirmed out commitment to this commonsense health policy that will ensure your people have the tools needed to protect their health and form respectful relationships”, said Assistant Majority Leader Sal DiDomenico. “This legislation makes it clear that sex education in the Commonwealth must be inclusive for all students and emphasize the importance and necessity of consent. I would like to especially thank the many advocates who have partnered with us on this legislation and worked tirelessly to ensure Massachusetts youth have the information they need to build the bright futures they deserve–– without shame or judgement.”
Currently, public schools in the Commonwealth that choose to teach sex education are not required to use or adhere to a specific sexed curriculum. While some schools provide comprehensive and effective sex education, others teach outdated and abstinence-focused programs, including curricula that ignores LGBTQIA+ health and critical lessons on consent. This has led to a patchwork of sexual education programs across the state. The Healthy Youth Act (S.2534) aims to change this by requiring school districts that offer sec education to follow certain guidelines when selecting a curriculum. This is vital to ensuring that students throughout the state are provided with age-appropriate, medically accurate, and comprehensive information, including topics on:
· the 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 bill does not require public schools to teach sex education but sets curriculum guidelines for those that do. This legislation also protects and enhances parents’ right to remove their children from all or part of the sex education program if they choose to do so–– an action already protected by state law. Additionally, this bill updates parent-notification guidelines for districts that choose to teach sex education curriculum and requires schools to send notice to parents in English and in other commonly spoken languages in the district. Notice would alert parents that their child is enrolled in a sex-education course and would inform them of their right to review the curriculum or opt their child our of some or all of the lessons.
Now in its 10th year, the Healthy Youth Act has been passed by the Senate several times over in previous legislative sessions. The most recent iteration of the bill incorporates additional feedback from experts, educators, and advocates, and was co-sponsored by seventy representatives and twenty-four senators.
On Thursday Senator DiDomenico spoke on the floor of the Massachusetts Senate stating, “every school year that goes by where transgender youth do not see themselves reflected in their curriculum, we are failing. Every year that any cohort of seniors goes off to college without having received vital lessons on consent, respect, and bodily autonomy, we are failing.” He went on to add, “enough is enough, it is time for us to pass this bill and sign it into law.”
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 have been 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 agreeing that sex education should include comprehensive information, such as how to build healthy relationships and understand consent.
The bill now moves on to the House of Representatives for consideration.