Larissa De Souza
Abington resident, health advocate
When I was growing up on the South Shore, “sexual health” was an unfamiliar term to myself, my peers, and my Latino community. Speaking about sex was taboo, and this, coupled with the lack of comprehensive sex education, left me and my peers dependent on each other’s whispers and cautious Internet searches for information. Now, as an advocate for health care access and equity, I discuss sex education with parents and young adults, and their experiences often reflect my own. The overwhelming consensus is our schools are not doing enough.
Massachusetts has not updated its sex education frameworks since 1999, and there is no way to guarantee the information provided to students is medically accurate, or age appropriate. This means Massachusetts students are vulnerable to incomplete information, including abstinence-only programs that studies have shown do not reduce teen pregnancies. It comes as no surprise then that the rising rates of sexually transmitted infections in Massachusetts disproportionally affect our youth. It is clear that we need to equip schools with a comprehensive sex education framework in order to ensure young people can make healthy decisions.
The Healthy Youth Act would ensure any Massachusetts public school choosing to teach sex education uses a comprehensive curriculum that meets state standards, one that is medically accurate, age appropriate, and LGBTQ inclusive. Curricula would focus on the benefits of abstinence and educate young adults about protecting themselves if they do have sex. This bill also promotes healthy relationships by making sure teens learn about communication, respecting boundaries, and the importance of consent. Importantly, districts will still be able to decide whether or not to offer sex education and parents will be able to review the curriculum and decide whether their child will participate. The goal of this legislation is to simply set a basic standard that helps schools and parents work together to provide a curriculum that’s best for their communities.
Our youth should not have to depend on their peers and the Internet for sex education. By providing schools with the resources they need to teach comprehensive sex education, the Healthy Youth Act will guide Massachusetts youth toward a safer and brighter future.
Mansfield resident, music teacher at Sharon High School
The state Legislature should not approve “An Act Relative to Healthy Youth” for four reasons:
First, although the legislation promises sex education that is “age appropriate” and “medically accurate,” these terms are only vaguely defined in the bill. However, a currently state-recommended seventh-grade curriculum, “Get Real,” discusses ways to have sex, uses role play, and references the use of dental dams and Saran wrap as prophylactics. Is this age-appropriate content for 12-year-olds? Such scenarios offer little to no guidance in helping students make smart decisions. As a public educator, I am keenly aware of the stewardship parents have entrusted to me. Their children would feel uncomfortable and embarrassed using this demeaning curriculum, and many of those parents would question the appropriateness of Get Real’s content.
Secondly, the legislation removes control of the curriculum from teachers and parents to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Top-down curricular mandates hamstring teachers from utilizing materials appropriate for the intellectual and emotional maturity of their class and from finding more effective ways to connect with impressionable minds. A one-size-fits-all curriculum mandate will not address all students’ learning needs.
Thirdly, I believe the state did not adequately consult key stakeholders before recommending curricula like Get Real. When planning significant changes to educational programs, school committees, superintendents, and principals seek input from parents, students, teachers, and the community. It would behoove the state to do the same if it seeks to win support for curriculum mandates. Conduct open discussions before adopting or implementing legislation.
Finally, sex education is the most sensitive subject we teach our children. Imposing a curriculum mandate using material such as Get Real greatly diminishes the integrity of, and respect we have for, our children. Sex is not simply a recreational activity as portrayed by this type of curriculum, but a complex physical, emotional, and psychological matter with lifelong consequences.
We who know what’s best for our children must be allowed to drive the issue so we can prepare our children for a future they can enter feeling confident and upright about themselves. The responsibility for teaching sex education to children should be on parents and health care providers, not bureaucrats.
(This is an informal poll, not a scientific survey. Please vote only once.)As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.