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Good news! On September 17, 2023, the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) unanimously adopted the 2023 Health and Physical Education Framework. The framework was unveiled by the Healey-Driscoll Administration earlier in the summer and was brought before BESE for a vote following a 60-day public comment period. It’s in alignment with An Act Relative to Healthy Youth (S.268/H.544), aka the Healthy Youth Act (HYA), which is one of the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts’ priority bills for the 2023-24 session.

This is a major win for students and educators. The last time the Commonwealth’s health education guidelines were updated was in 1999! Now, having a health education framework that is grounded in science and reflects national standards will help health educators teach students what they need to know at every grade level and create safer classroom environments for everyone.

But our work is not done! We’re still advocating for passage of the Healthy Youth Act, which seeks to ensure that all sex and relationship education curricula taught in Massachusetts public schools are medically accurate, age appropriate, LGBTQ+ inclusive, include tools to build healthy relationships, and teach the benefits of delaying sex as well as how to prevent STIs (sexually transmitted infections) and pregnancy. It also retains parents/guardians’ rights to review the curriculum and opt their children out of instruction if they choose to do so.

The HYA would strengthen the impact of the new framework by requiring schools that choose to teach sex education to select a curriculum that meets these comprehensive standards, provide a timeline for regular reviews and updates to the framework, and institute a data collection requirement so the state tracks where and how sex education is being taught.

Building healthy, safe communities begins with our youth.

A strong majority of people in Massachusetts, including most parents, want young people to receive sex and relationship education at school. And more than 30 years of research shows that sex and relationship education works. It delays the initiation of sex, reduces pregnancies and STIs, helps young people develop healthy relationships, prevents dating violence and sexual abuse, and improves academic outcomes.

Over the past decade in the US, the percentage of female students who were forced to have sex increased from 12% to 14%, and those who experienced sexual violence increased from 15% to 18%. Here in Massachusetts, 10% of high school students have experienced sexual assault and 7% have experienced physical dating violence. Sex and relationship education that does not address sexual harassment and assault prevents survivors from getting help and perpetrators from being held accountable. Young people need to know how to talk about sex before they start having sex, so that they are prepared to handle difficult situations.

LGBTQ+ youth deserve better.

LGBTQ+ youth are hit especially hard by ineffective and stigmatizing sex education. 81% of LGBTQ+ youth in Massachusetts don’t learn about LGBTQ+ topics in sex ed, an experience that leaves them without essential tools needed to stay healthy, while also isolating and stigmatizing them. This group is also disproportionately affected by STIs, sexual assault, and bullying. By passing the Healthy Youth Act, we can make sure young people are equipped with nonjudgmental, LGBTQ+ inclusive guidance to help them protect themselves, form healthy relationships, and support their overall health and wellbeing.

Massachusetts is lagging behind other states.

17 states require sex education to be medically accurate and 26 states require instruction to be age appropriate. Massachusetts currently requires neither. The Healthy Youth Act would change that — we need to pass it now!

Take action and urge your legislature to pass the Healthy Youth Act.

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