State Policies on Sex Education in Schools

10/1/2020

Why Is Sexual Education Taught in Schools?

ClassroomA 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey indicates that nearly 40 percent of all high school students report they have had sex, and 9.7 percent of high school students have had sex with four or more partners during their lifetime. Among students who had sex in the three months prior to the survey, 54 percent reported condom use and 30 percent reported using birth control pills, an intrauterine device (IUD), implant, shot or ring during their last sexual encounter.

The birth rate for women aged 15-19 years was 18.8 per 1,000 women in 2017, a drop of 7 percent from 2016. According to CDC, reasons for the decline are not entirely clear, but evidence points to a higher number of teens abstaining from sexual activity and an increased use of birth control in teens who are sexually active. Though the teen birth rate has declined to its lowest levels since data collection began, the United States still has the highest teen birth rate in the industrialized world.

Certain social and economic costs can result from teen pregnancy. Teenage mothers are less likely to finish high school and are more likely than their peers to live in poverty, depend on public assistance, and be in poor health. Their children are more likely to suffer health and cognitive disadvantages, come in contact with the child welfare and correctional systems, live in poverty, drop out of high school and become teen parents themselves. These costs add up, according to The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, which estimates that teen childbearing costs taxpayers at least $9.4 billion annually. Between 1991 and 2015, the teen birth rate dropped 64%, resulting in approximately $4.4 billion in public savings in one year alone.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) disproportionately affect adolescents due to a variety of behavioral, biological and cultural reasons. Young people ages 15 to 24 represent 25 percent of the sexually active population, but acquire half of all new STIs, or about 10 million new cases a year. Though many cases of STIs continue to go undiagnosed and unreported, one in four sexually-active adolescent females is reported to have an STI.

Human papillomavirus is the most common STI and some estimates find that up to 35 percent of teens ages 14 to 19 have HPV. The rate of reported cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and primary and secondary syphilis increased among those aged 15-24 years old between 2017-2018. Rates of reported chlamydia cases are consistently highest among women aged 15-24 years, and rates of reported gonorrhea cases are consistently highest among men aged 15-24 years. A CDC analysis reveals the annual number of new STIs is roughly equal among young women and young men. However, women are more likely to experience long-term health complications from untreated STIs and adolescent females may have increased susceptibility to infection due to biological reasons.

The estimated direct medical costs for treating people with STIs are nearly $16 billion annually, with costs associated with HIV infection accounting for more than 81% of the total cost. In 2017, approximately 21 percent of new HIV diagnoses were among young people ages 13 to 24 years.

State Laws on Medical Accuracy in Sex or HIV Education
STATUTES SUMMARY
Arizona
Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 15-716
Each school district may provide instruction on HIV/AIDS. At minimum the instruction shall be medically accurate, age-appropriate, promote abstinence, discourage drug abuse and dispel myths regarding the transmission of HIV.

California

Cal. Educ. Code § 51930-51939

Each school districts shall ensure all pupils in grades 7 to 12 receive comprehensive sexual health education and HIV prevention education from trained instructors. Each student shall receive instruction at least once in junior high school or middle school and at least once in high school. The information must be age-appropriate, medically accurate and objective. A school district that elects to offer comprehensive sex education earlier than grade seven may provide age-appropriate and medically accurate information.

Colorado

Colo. Rev. Stat. § 22-25-101 et seq. & § 22-1-128

Establishes the Colorado comprehensive health education program. Human sexuality instruction is not required, but a school district that offers a human sexuality curriculum shall be comprehensive and maintain content standards for the curriculum that are based on scientific research. Curriculum content standards shall be age-appropriate, medically accurate, encourage parental involvement and family communication, and promote the development of healthy relationships.

Hawaii

Hawaii Rev. Stat. § 321-11.1

Sex education programs funded by the state shall provide medically accurate and factual information that is age appropriate and includes education on abstinence, contraception, and methods of disease prevention to prevent unintended pregnancy and STIs, including HIV.

Medically accurate is defined as verified or supported by research conducted in compliance with accepted scientific methods and recognized as accurate and objective by professional organizations and agencies with expertise in the relevant field, such as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Public Health Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Illinois

105 ILCS 5/27-9.1 &

150 ILCS 110/3

Human growth and development and family life responsibilities, including evidence-based and medically accurate information regarding sexual abstinence until marriage and prevention and control of disease, including instruction in grades 6 through 12 on the prevention, transmission and spread of AIDS is included as a major educational area as a basis for curricula in all elementary and secondary schools in the state. All schools that provide sex education courses are required to be developmentally and age appropriate, medically accurate, evidence-based and complete. Comprehensive sex education offered in grades six through 12 must include instruction on both abstinence and contraception for the prevention of pregnancy and diseases. Parents can opt out.

Iowa

Iowa Code § 279.50

Each school board shall provide age-appropriate and research-based instruction in human growth and development including instruction regarding human sexuality, self-esteem, stress management, interpersonal relationships, domestic abuse, HPV and the availability of a vaccine to prevent HPV, and acquired immune deficiency syndrome in grades one through 12. Research-based includes information recognized as medically accurate and objective by leading professional organizations and agencies with relevant expertise in the field.

Louisiana

La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 17:281
Any public elementary school or secondary school in Louisiana may, but is not required to, offer instruction in subject matter designated as “sex education”. “Sex education” shall mean the dissemination of factual biological or pathological information that is related to the human reproductive system and may include the study of sexually transmitted disease, pregnancy, childbirth, puberty, menstruation and menopause, as well as the dissemination of factual information about parental responsibilities under the child support laws of the state.

Maine

Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 22 § 1902

Defines "comprehensive family life education" as education from kindergarten to grade 12 regarding human development and sexuality, including education on family planning and sexually transmitted diseases, that is medically accurate and age appropriate, respects community values and encourages parental communication, develops skills in communication, contributes to healthy relationships, promotes responsible behavior with an emphasis on abstinence, addresses the use of contraception, promotes responsibility and involvement regarding sexuality and teaches skills for responsible decision making regarding sexuality.

Michigan

Mich. Comp. Laws § 380.1169

The superintendent of a school district shall cooperate with the Department of Public Health to provide teacher training and provide medically accurate materials for instruction of children about HIV/AIDS.

Minnesota

Minn. Stat. § 121A.23

The commissioner of education and the commissioner of health shall assist school districts to develop a plan to prevent or reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases. Districts must have a program that has technically accurate information and curriculum.

Missouri

Mo. Rev. Stat. § 170.015 &
§ 191.668

Any course materials and instructions related to human sexuality and STIs shall be medically and factually accurate. The department of health and senior services shall prepare public education and awareness plans and programs for the general public, and the department of elementary and secondary education shall prepare educational programs for public schools, regarding means of transmission and prevention and treatment of the HIV virus.  Beginning with students in the sixth grade, materials and instructions shall also stress that STIs are serious, possible health hazards of sexual activity. The educational programs shall stress moral responsibility in and restraint from sexual activity and avoidance of controlled substance use whereby HIV can be transmitted. Students shall be presented with the latest medically factual and age-specific information regarding both the possible side effects and health benefits of all forms of contraception.

New Jersey*

Family life education curriculum must be aligned with the most recent version of the New Jersey Core curriculum Content Standards which requires that instructional material be current, medically accurate and supported by extensive research.

North Carolina

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 115C-81.30

Each local school administrative until shall provide a reproductive health and safety education program beginning in the 7th grade. Instruction must provide factually accurate biological or pathological information that is related to the human reproductive system. Materials used must be age appropriate, objective and based upon scientific research that is peer reviewed and accepted by professional and credentialed experts in the field of sexual health education. 

Oklahoma

Okl. Stat. Ann. tit. 70 § 11-103.3

The State Department of Education shall develop curriculum and materials for AIDS prevention education in conjunction with the State Department of Health. A school district may also develop its own AIDS prevention education curriculum and materials. Any curriculum and materials developed for use in the public schools shall be approved for medical accuracy by the State Department of Health. The State Department of Health and the State Department of Education shall update AIDS education curriculum material as newly discovered medical facts make it necessary.

Oregon

Or. Rev. Stat. § 336.455

Each school district shall provide age-appropriate human sexuality education courses in all public elementary and secondary schools as an integral part of the health education curriculum. Curriculum must also be medically accurate, comprehensive, and include information about responsible sexual behaviors and hygienic practices that eliminate or reduce the risks of pregnancy and the risks of exposure to HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and other STIs. Information about those risks shall be presented in a manner designed to allay fears concerning risks that are scientifically groundless.

Rhode Island

R.I. Gen. Laws § 16-22-17

The department of elementary and secondary education shall, pursuant to rules promulgated by the commissioner of elementary and secondary education and the director of the department of health, establish comprehensive AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) instruction, which shall provide students with accurate information and instruction on AIDS transmission and prevention, and which course shall also address abstinence from sexual activity as the preferred means of prevention, as a basic education program requirement.

Tennessee

Tenn. Code Ann.
§ 49-6-1301 et seq.

Requires local education agencies to develop and implement a family life education program if the teen pregnancy rate in any county exceeds 19.5 pregnancies per 1,000 females aged 11 through 18. Requires curriculum be age-appropriate and provide factually and medically accurate information. Prohibits instruction and distribution of materials that promote “gateway sexual activity.” Requires that parents or guardians be notified in advance of a family life program, allowed to examine instruction materials, and provide written consent for a student to opt-out of family life education.

Texas

Tex. Health and Safety Code § 85.004

The department shall develop model education programs to be available to educate the public about AIDS and HIV infection. The programs must be scientifically accurate and factually correct.

Utah**

The State Office of Education must approve all sexuality education programs through the State Instructional Material Commission.  Programs must be medically accurate.

Virginia*** A local curriculum plan shall use as a reference the Family Life Education Standards of Learning objectives approved by the Board of Education and shall provide age-appropriate, medically-accurate instruction in relation to students’ developmental stages and abilities, and reproduction-related topics.

Washington

Wash. Rev. Code § 28A.300.475

Every public school that offers sexual health education must assure that sexual health education is medically and scientifically accurate, age-appropriate, appropriate for students regardless of gender, race, disability status, or sexual orientation, and includes information about abstinence and other methods of preventing unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. All sexual health information, instruction, and materials must be medically and scientifically accurate. Abstinence may not be taught to the exclusion of other materials and instruction on contraceptives and disease prevention.

Wisconsin

Wis. Stat. § 118.019

A school board may provide an instructional program in human growth and development in grades kindergarten through 12. The program shall be medically accurate and age-appropriate and provide medically accurate information about HPV and HIV.

*Medical accuracy is not specifically outlined in state statue, rather it is required by the New Jersey Department of Education, Comprehensive Health and Physical Education Student Learning Standards.

** Medical accuracy requirement is pursuant to rule R277-474 of the Utah Administrative Code.

***Medical accuracy is not outlined in state statute, rather it is included in the Virginia Department of Education Standards of Learning Document for Family Life Resources.

Source:  NCSL, 2019; Guttmacher Institute, 2019; Powered by StateNet 

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