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Massachusetts Senate Passes the Healthy Youth Act

BOSTON- Today, the Massachusetts Senate voted to pass S.2113, An Act relative to healthy youth.  This bill, sponsored by Senator Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett), will ensure that school districts in the Commonwealth that elect to provide their students with sex education provide age-appropriate and medically accurate information that includes coverage of both abstinence and contraception. 

“The amount of information that students have access to today through technology and the media is almost overwhelming.  This bill provides for age appropriate and medically accurate sexual education for students in a school setting to give them the best information available through a trusted source,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst).  “The bill also requires parental notification and allows for review of all materials presented in the classroom.  We need our students to make the best decisions based on the most accurate information.”

“Massachusetts students deserve an education that will prepare them for the future and help them make smart and informed decisions,” said Senator Sal DiDomenico.  "As legislators, it is our job to ensure that young people receive comprehensive education on every subject they learn in school, and these standards should also apply to sex education.  This commonsense bill not only guarantees that students receive accurate information to help them make healthy decisions, but also ensures that parents remain informed and are a part of their child’s education along the way.”

“Congratulations to my friend and colleague Sen. Sal DiDomenico on his dogged work in support of healthy youth,” said Senator Sonia Chang Diaz (D-Boston), Senate Chair of the Senate Education Committee. “The bill passed by the Senate today will ensure that health education in our schools is medically accurate and age appropriate, promoting healthy relationships and healthy bodies.”

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 choose to offer sexuality education follow certain guidelines to ensure that students are provided with age-appropriate and medically accurate information. Under the bill, sexual health education must include but not be limited to:

·         the benefits of abstinence, delaying sexual activity, and the importance of effectively using contraceptives;

·         ways to effectively discuss safe sexual activity;

·         relationship and communication skills to form healthy, respectful relationships free of violence; coercion, and intimidation and to make healthy decisions about relationships and sexuality;

·         physical, social and emotional changes of human development;

·         human anatomy, reproduction, and sexual development; and

·         age-appropriate information about gender identity and sexual orientation for all students.

Sex education programs have repeatedly been shown to work best when they emphasize the value of abstinence, while also teaching students about the importance of protecting themselves from unintended consequences.  This type of comprehensive curriculum is proven to be more effective at delaying sexual activity among young people, increasing the rate in which young people use contraception, while also lowering rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and teen pregnancy.

The bill does not require schools to provide sexuality information.  Local school boards and schools still make all decisions about whether to offer sex education. This legislation also maintains existing state law that allows parents to remove their children from sex education programs and gives school districts clearer guidance on how to notify parents about these programs.

School districts that provide a sexuality curriculum must adopt a written policy to give parents and legal guardians notification and inform them of the right to withdraw their child from all or part of the instruction. 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.

This bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.