Mar 13, 2024 - Politics

Beacon Hill still not ready to revamp sex ed in schools

Illustration of birds and bees filling out a checkmark.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Advocates for teaching lessons on sexual health in schools that cover topics like LGBTQ inclusivity, bullying and consent will likely have to wait at least another year or two before updated frameworks become required in Massachusetts.

Why it matters: The Massachusetts sex education curriculum hadn't been updated in 24 years before Gov. Maura Healey last year gave districts the option to teach what experts say are medically accurate, age-appropriate and inclusive lessons.

  • A bill that would standardize those lessons won Senate approval for a fifth time in nine years, but House Speaker Ron Mariano ruled out his chamber passing it.
  • The bill would narrow the curricula districts can use to teach about sex to just the most modern lessons that include consent, LGBTQ issues and healthy relationships.

State of play: School districts can now teach from a variety of guidelines, modern or outdated, or choose not to teach sex ed at all.

  • Supporters say that means a town could teach abstinence-only lessons or ignore LGBTQ topics.
  • Students and parents can also opt out of any sex ed lessons, which would still be allowed under the proposed bill.

The bill also calls for updates to the sex ed curriculum every 10 years and would require state officials to track which lessons districts are teaching and their impact.

Yes, but: Mariano wants to "give school districts adequate time to implement" Healey's new voluntary guidelines "rather than rush to potentially amend or codify them into law," according to a statement from his office.

Between the lines: Letting districts work with the voluntary guidelines for another year or so lets the House put off a vote on a tricky political issue in an election year.

What's next: With Mariano taking the sex ed bill out of play, the only realistic way it could pass this year would be if Senate President Karen Spilka wants the bill enough to make it a priority in the mad dash of political horse-trading at the end of the session.


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