Senate Approves DiDomenico Bill To Update and Modernize Sexual Health Education

Last Thursday, the Massachusetts Senate passed Senator DiDomenico’s Healthy Youth Act, which would ensure that Massachusetts public schools electing to teach sexual health education curriculum use age-appropriate, inclusive, medically accurate, and research-based information on sex, relationships, and consent.

The Healthy Youth Act, S.2686, would enhance parental rights and codify into law the voluntary framework approved by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). It calls for sex and relationship education to be inclusive and appropriate for students regardless of gender, race, disability status, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

“The Healthy Youth Act will finally make it clear that sex and relationship education in Massachusetts must be inclusive of all students and emphasize the importance and necessity of consent in relationships,” said Senator Sal N. DiDomenico, Assistant Majority Leader and lead sponsor of the Senate bill. “We must finally get this commonsense health policy over the finish line to ensure our children have the information they need to protect their health, form respectful relationships, and build the bright futures they deserve. I want to thank Senate President Spilka, Chair Rodrigues, Chair Lewis, and all the advocates who have worked tirelessly to give our children the best education available.”

“The true north for the Massachusetts Senate is providing our young people and families with every tool possible to empower them to live a bright future, right here in our state,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “Inclusive and medically accurate sex and relationship education is fundamental to supporting residents in building that future, and critical if we want to continue leading and competing in all aspects of education nationally. Thanks to the relentless work of Senator DiDomenico, and the tireless support from Chair Lewis and all who have worked so hard on this effort, Massachusetts has an opportunity to continue to lead in this space.”

Requiring medically accurate curriculum for public schools teaching sex and relationship education

The Healthy Youth Act would ensure that students in public schools that offer sexual health education are receiving, and teachers have guidance on, curricula that is age-appropriate, medically accurate, comprehensive, and inclusive of LGBTQ+ health and lessons on consent.

The Healthy Youth Act would incorporate comprehensive sex and relationship education that could support students in delaying the initiation of sex, increasing use of contraception, lowering the rates of STIs and unintended pregnancy among teens, and reducing reported levels of bullying towards LGBTQ+ youth in school.

Curricula for schools that choose to teach sex and relationship education would include 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. 

Protecting and enhancing parental notification and rights

This legislation also protects and enhances parents’ right to remove their children from all or part of the sex and relationship 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 and relationship 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 and relationship education course and would inform them of their right to review the curriculum or opt their child out of some or all of the lessons.  

Building on the DESE education framework

The Healthy Youth Act would codify into law the health education framework approved by DESE last year, which is currently only a voluntary guideline for school districts in the Commonwealth.

If passed, the legislation would strengthen the impact of the new health education framework and create standards for sex and relationship curricula in public schools.

The Healthy Youth Act would require the DESE to collect data on sex and relationship education taught in public schools and require DESE to review and update the framework at least every ten years to ensure the sex and relationship education guidelines remain comprehensive and are meeting the needs of students.

The bill has the support of a broad coalition of education and LGBTQ+ advocates around the state.

“Today’s vote affirms what we already know – a strong majority of people in Massachusetts, including most parents, want young people to receive sex and relationship education at school,” said Jamie Klufts, co-chair of the Healthy Youth Coalition. “We are deeply grateful to the entire Senate, including Senate President Spilka, Senate Ways and Means Chair Rodrigues, and Assistant Majority Leader DiDomenico, for believing in the Healthy Youth Act once again. We look forward to working with the House to pass the Healthy Youth Act this session so that the state’s exciting new Health and Physical Education Framework can reach its full potential and do the most to support our students and teachers.”

“Ensuring that Massachusetts schools are places where all students feel safe and supported––no exceptions––has never been so urgent,” said Jaclyn Friedman, Executive Director of EducateUS and Chair of the Healthy Youth Coalition. “The type of sex and relationship education provided for by the Healthy Youth Act is proven to protect young people against bullying, abuse, and feelings of isolation. We applaud the Senate’s steadfast and timely commitment to young people across Massachusetts.”

“We are excited to learn that, once again, the Healthy Youth Act has passed the Senate,” said Shaplaie Brooks, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ+ Youth. “This tells us that the number one priority for the Senate is comprehensive, intersectional, and medically-accurate health education for students in the Commonwealth. With this win, we believe that the Senate has weighed the pros and cons of this life-saving legislation, and ultimately centered the importance of cultivating a safe environment for students to engage a modern curriculum that reflects the issues they face every day and answers their questions about healthy relationships––rooted in consent. The Commission believes that the House understands the same, and urges it to take up this bill immediately. We are at a pivotal moment in our Commonwealth’s history where we have a chance for all youth including LGBTQ youth to receive critical information that can equip them with the tools to keep themselves safe, be a safe person in their relationships, understand the risks and red flags specific to their communities, and have the autonomy to make informed decisions based on the power of knowledge and not fear.”

This is the fifth consecutive session during which the Senate has adopted similar legislation.

 The bill now heads to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for consideration.

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