BOSTON – Students reportedly learn sex education in a “medically accurate and age-appropriate” way under a proposal being considered by lawmakers, but critics say the changes would promote controversial views on the issue. subject.
The proposal, one of dozens of bills heard by the Legislative Assembly’s Joint Education Committee on Thursday, would establish a statewide program requiring schools that teach sex education to provide information on contraception and safe sex, gender identity and sexual orientation, among other topics.
Supported by more than 80 lawmakers, the proposal would not force school districts to adopt the guidelines. Parents should be notified at least 30 days in advance and allowed to refuse children.
Groups such as the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts are backing the changes, saying they will apply statewide standards to what is currently a mishmash of sex education programs.
The groups cite studies that show that abstinence campaigns and other programs asking teens to âjust say noâ don’t stop them from having sex.
But critics say the program’s guidelines would present inappropriate information about sexual activity to students who may be too young for the content.
“Is it age appropriate to talk to 12 year olds about anal or oral sex?” said Michael King, a spokesman for the conservative Massachusetts Family Institute, which opposes the measure.
Mary Ellen Siegler, of Newbury, urged the panel to reject the bill because she said it would remove control of the sex education program from local school districts.
âIt imposes a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching sex education, which is harmful to children,â said Siegler, who founded the Massachusetts Informed Parents group. “People are tired of government mandates. Control needs to stay local with school districts and parents.”
The state Senate approved a similar proposal last January. Previous sexist proposals are blocked in the House of Representatives. It is unclear where Governor Charlie Baker, a pro-choice Republican, stands on the proposal.
Massachusetts does not require sex education classes, leaving it up to the districts to decide what to offer and what types of standards to include.
Some districts, like Lawrence, emphasize abstinence in addition to the use of birth control and other forms of contraception.
In Massachusetts, the number of teenage mothers has dropped dramatically, which experts attribute in large part to access to contraception and sex education classes.
Statewide, 1,827 babies were born to teenage mothers in 2017, according to the latest data from the state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services.
The state’s teenage birth rate that year was 8.1 per 1,000 girls – the lowest in the country.
The rate has been going down for more than a decade, the data shows.
Despite this, teenage birth rates remain high in some communities north of Boston, including Lawrence, Lynn and Haverhill.
If approved, the measure would take effect for the 2021-2022 school year.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for newspapers and the North of Boston Media Group websites. Email him at [email protected]