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California and Minnesota Advance Sexuality Education

Two states, using different mechanisms of change experienced progress in March in their work toward securing comprehensive sexuality education for young people.  In the first step forward, California’s State Board of Education established standards for sexuality education.  And in a second effort, Minnesota’s legislature is considering legislation that would require comprehensive sexuality education in that state.

After years of debate, California’s State Board of Education solidified a specific set of health education content standards.  The new standards—which specify what all kindergarten through 12th grade students will be taught—expand upon the existent Comprehensive Sexual Health Education law, which went into effect in 2004. The law requires sexuality education to be medically accurate, objective, and void of bias against any culture or background; it also effectively prohibits abstinence-only-until-marriage sexuality education in the California’s public schools.1 The standards spell out what is expected in classrooms.2 

Mary Marks, a consultant for the California Department of Education, supported the guidelines.  Marks said, “The big news is that we finally have standards, and what’s exciting is that we are taking a comprehensive, holistic approach.”  Advocates in the state agreed.  ACLU of Northern California attorney Maggie Crosby added that the state is “one giant step closer to ensuring that all of California’s students receive accurate and comprehensive information about sex.”3  Vince Hall, Director of Communication for Planned Parenthood of San Diego and Riverside Counties, also commended the State Board’s approach, saying “It focuses not just on sexuality as a single item but it discusses healthy relationships, it discusses dealing with alcohol and drug abuse, and it talks about the ways all of those different challenges for our young people are interconnected.”4 

Proponents of an abstinence-only-until-marriage approach in the state did not applaud the progress.  Randy Thomasson, president of the right wing Campaign for Children and Families, spoke out against California’s standards, arguing that “these new regulation ensure that children will be taught to use condoms and birth-control pills.”5

Halfway across the country, Minnesota also made positive strides in sexuality education in March.  The Minnesota Senate amended the Education Policy Omnibus Bill (SF 3001) to include “responsible” sexuality education.  Additionally, the House K-12 Finance Committee passed HF 0615. This bill, also known as the Responsible Family Life and Sexuality Education Programs bill, requires comprehensive sex education for students in grades 7 through 12 in Minnesota’s schools.6 The bill must pass two more committee votes before reaching the House floor.7 

These legislative steps are supported by parents in the state and reflect Minnesota values.  Recent polling concluded that a large majority of parents in the state support sex education, specifically “instruction on topics like birth, sexually transmitted disease, assertiveness skills and pregnancy.”8  Advocates in the state are pleased with the legislative action.  They note that Minnesota’s teen birth rate increased by 6 percent, and the teen birth rate by 7 percent between 2005 and 2006.9  Brigid Riley of the Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention and Parenting (MOAPPP) pointed to a “critical problem with health education in the schools” as one of the reasons why Minnesota’s teen pregnancy rates have increased.  Advocates hope that the Minnesota legislature continues to push for the advancement of sexuality education.10

“Both California and Minnesota continue to demonstrate that common sense, evidence of what works, and basic values can be the cornerstone of efforts to secure good sex education,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS.

References

  1. SIECUS State Profiles
  2. Dana Hull, “State Board of Education adopts sex-education standards.” San Jose Mercury News. 14 March 2008, accessed 2 April 2008, <www.mercurynews.com/localnewsheadlines/ci_8569679>.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ana Tintocalis, “New State Standards Begin Sex Education in Fifth Grade.” KPBS NEWS, 18 March 2008, accessed 8 April 2008, <http://www.kpbs.org/news/local;id=11183>.
  5. Dana Hull, “State Board of Education adopts sex-education standards.” San Jose Mercury News. 14 March 2008, accessed 2 April 2008, <www.mercurynews.com/localnewsheadlines/ci_8569679>.  
  6. HF 0615, Minnesota Legislature. <https://www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/bin/bldbill.php?bill=ceH0615.1.html&session=ls85>.
  7. Coalition for Responsible Sex Ed. 20 March 2008, accessed 2 April 2008, <http://www.coalitionforsexed.org/2007session/2007session.htm>.
  8. Jennifer Johnson, “Minnesota parents support sex education.” Daily News, 26 March 2008, accessed 2 April 2008, <http://www.wahpetondailynews.com/articles/2008/03/26/news/news02.txt>.
  9. Brady Hamilton, et. al., “Births: Preliminary Data for 2006,” National Vital Statistics Reports, vol. 56, no. 7, December 5, 2007, pp. 1-18., accessed at: <http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr56/nvsr56_07.pdf>.
  10. Ibid.

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