Massachusetts has approved new physical and sexual health education guidelines for school districts for the first time since 1999. The new education framework will include topics of consent, LGBTQ+ inclusivity, and the impact of changing technology on health.
While these new frameworks have been approved, Massachusetts does not require schools to teach sexual education. Districts can craft their own curriculum and can choose whether they adopt the new standards.
The Massachusetts Board of Education and Secondary Education unanimously voted to approve the new guidelines in a meeting Tuesday.
In June, Gov. Maura Healey led the push for updates to the guidelines to make them more inclusive of LGBTQ+ identities and include topics regarding bodily autonomy, mental health, dating safety, sexually transmitted infections and more.
The vote came after a 60-day public comment period, where the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education received almost 5,400 responses — both in favor of and against the changes.
The curriculum includes guidelines for different age groups: pre-K through second grade, third to fifth grade, sixth to eighth grade, and ninth to 12th grade. For younger students, topics include healthy eating, hygiene, emergency response, bullying, gendered stereotypes and more. Guidelines as students get older include more education about having healthy romantic relationships, gender identity, substance use and more.
“A number of our southern states either prohibit sex educators from discussing LGBTQ+ identities and relationships or require sex educators to frame LGBTQ+ identities and relationships negatively. That is not going to happen in the commonwealth of Massachusetts.”Jim O’Day, state representative of West Boylston
Adam Schepis, who is a parent of a 14-year-old transgender son and a 10-year-old cisgender son who both attend Massachusetts public schools, said during the Tuesday meeting he was in support of the new guidelines. He said it is important students have the age-appropriate information they need about topics of sex, diversity and gender.
“I worry, because I know that the world isn't always a safe place for him and that I can’t always be there to protect him,” Schepis said. “That's why these guidelines are so important. First, I think it's critical that LGBTQ kids can see themselves and hear about themselves in schools.”
State Rep. Jim O’Day is the lead sponsor of the Healthy Youth Act, a comprehensive sex education bill that he has been pushing for years, which requires schools that offer sexual health education to “provide a medically accurate, age-appropriate, comprehensive sexual health education.” It still would not require sex ed to be taught in schools.
O’Day expressed optimism in the bill passing through the State House, and emphasized his support for the new curriculum that passed at the Tuesday meeting.
“A number of our southern states either prohibit sex educators from discussing LGBTQ+ identities and relationships or require sex educators to frame LGBTQ+ identities and relationships negatively,” O’Day said. “That is not going to happen in the commonwealth of Massachusetts, that’s what we want to address as part of this framework. This framework strives to ensure that all students in Massachusetts are empowered with information about themselves in addition to maintaining respect and kindness for all people in their communities.”