I’ve recently heard from a number of people with concerns about the health education bill, House 3434. I do support the bill, and I am, in fact, a cosponsor.
Actually, the bill adds only a very limited reporting mandate for school districts; it does not mandate any curriculum. Granted, school districts already deal with enough red tape , but this bill will not change that burden materially.
It is about health broadly, not sex education narrowly, and preserves existing strong parental controls. I urge people take a look at the actual text, which you can view at this link.
It requires the state to develop a curriculum framework for health education, which under current law, it is permitted but not required to do. A framework is not a mandate. It is a tool — an inventory of issues and ideas — that school districts can use to develop their own programs if they wish to do so. The bill specifically states that it does not require an MCAS test on the subject. School districts would remain, in practice, free to completely ignore the standards. They will, however, be required to annually provide information on their health programs along with all of their other reporting to the state.
The bill does not, itself define standards. It just inventories subjects that should be covered by the standards, requiring that:
The standards for health education shall be age-appropriate, medically accurate and shall, at minimum, provide for instruction in the following areas: growth and physical development, physical activity and fitness, nutrition, reproduction and sexuality, mental health, family life, interpersonal relationships, disease prevention and control, safety and injury prevention, tobacco, alcohol, and other substance use and abuse prevention, consumer health and resource management, ecological health, and community and public health.
This basically expands the list of things that state curriculum standards on health should cover and changes a “may” to a “shall”. The current language reads:
The standards may provide for instruction in the issues of nutrition, physical education, AIDS education, violence prevention, and drug, alcohol and tobacco abuse prevention.
Again, regardless of what is in the standards, school districts remain free to ignore them. The bill also requires that parents be able to review the course materials and have the option of keeping their kids out of classes pertaining to sexuality.
Any legislation that has the word “sex” in it raises strong feelings, and there are strong feelings on both sides of this bill, but, ironically, it is a very moderate bill, which, however one views it, will have only a limited impact.