BOSTON (SHNS) – Students in public school districts would receive medically correct, age-appropriate education about sexual health regardless of gender, race, disability status or sexual orientation and this time goes by.
The guidelines (HD 3454 / SD 2178) are set out in legislation known as the Healthy Youth Act, tabled by Representatives James O’Day and Vanna Howard in the House of Representatives and Senator Sal DiDomenico in the Senate. Proponents of the bill say nationwide standards for comprehensive sex education are critical to protecting students from violence and sexually transmitted infections.
“I can’t stress this enough – we need to give youth the education and resources to help them build healthy relationships,” Howard said during a briefing hosted by the Healthy Youth Act Coalition. “They need to learn what a healthy relationship is and what isn’t so that they can avoid sexually transmitted diseases, infections, and incidents of violence and abuse.”
The coalition includes organizations such as the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, Fenway Health, Jane Doe Inc., NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, Partners in Sex Education, the National Association of Social Workers Massachusetts, and Planned Parenthood.
Massachusetts is one of a handful of states where sexual health education is not required to be medically correct, age-appropriate, or inclusive, said Megara Bell, director of partners in sex education. These states include Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Alaska.
“While I love all of these states – no shadows on these states – I think Massachusetts is time to do better and have laws to support full sex,” Bell said during the briefing, adding, That Legislators Have Done The “opportunity to endorse this legislation to ensure that sexual health education is standards-based, inclusive, age-appropriate, medically correct, teaches consent, healthy relationships and media literacy.”
The bill would require school districts to cover a wide range of sexual health issues, including sexual development, benefits of abstinence or delay in sexual activity, prevention of sexually transmitted infections, building healthy relationships, skills to recognize and prevent dating violence, and age-appropriate information about Gender identity and sexual orientation.
This curriculum would have to be age appropriate and medically correct, which is defined in the legislation as supported by peer-reviewed research conducted in accordance with recognized scientific method and subjects appropriate for children based on the development of one for an age typical cognitive, emotional and behavioral group, according to the calculations.
According to Bell, school districts typically categorize age-appropriate information into three grade levels: third through fifth grades, sixth through eighth, and ninth through tenth.
In the third through fifth grades, students usually learn about healthy friendships, puberty, hygiene, boundaries, and respect for others. At the other end of the spectrum, students in ninth through tenth grades typically learn about sexual consent, contraception, dating violence, gender orientation, and media literacy, according to Bell.
Bell said that many of the topics taught in a particular band “clearly cover all class groups”.
“The same topics apply to all grade levels, but older students have better cognitive abilities to understand them in greater depth,” said Bell. “Age appropriate is really important and that’s what a lot of people don’t understand about sex education. They consider it a close thing and don’t realize that there are many topics, but there are many topics in these class areas done in an age appropriate way. “
Towns or school districts would also submit annual reports to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that included the names and descriptions of all sexual health education curricula on offer, the approximate number of hours spent on training, the number of students enrolled in the classes, and the number of students Students who have withdrawn from sexual health education classes.
Legislators have tabled versions of the Healthy Youth Bill for the past decade, and the Senate passed the bills in 2017 and January 2020. O’Day, chairman of the steering, policy and planning committee, said it “hurts” him every time he hears someone talk about that 10 year span.
“It really does,” he said. “It’s a little embarrassing because any action taken by a decent politician or legislator consists of you measuring it against the laws that passed it. Well, it’s not like I didn’t get any bills. I’m definitely happy and proud of this one, but this is one that I really think is incredibly important. “
The house looks a little different this year with a new spokesperson and leadership team after former spokesman Robert DeLeo headed the chamber for 12 years. For the first three months, Spokesman Ronald Mariano, a former teacher, wasn’t shy about choosing priorities and then getting the bills around the house in those areas.
While the House leadership has not indicated any plans for the Healthy Youth Act, O’Day is hoping that this year “we can finally get to a place where both houses agree that this is truly an important piece of legislation.” “
“I know the House co-sponsor is here today, Rep. Howard. He’s really happy to have a fresh new legislature here with new ideas and new energies,” he said. “I hope that maybe it will make all the difference when it comes to getting that bill across the finish line.”