In recent weeks, North Carolina and Oregon both passed legislation that changed sexuality education requirements in the state.
In June, the North Carolina Senate spent a couple of weeks debating the Healthy Youth Act. The original House version of the bill (HB88), would have required schools to teach two separate tracks of sexuality education—one abstinence-based and the other comprehensive.[i] Yet, after weeks of debate, the Senate Mental Health and Youth Services Committee approved a less expansive revision of the bill that would require all school systems to offer information to students in seventh, eighth, and ninth grade about the use of contraceptives for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) prevention. The program, however, would remain part of a larger reproductive health education curriculum and would retain the abstinence-until-marriage focus that is currently offered in nearly all of North Carolina’s schools.[ii] The Senate version of the bill was approved on June 23 by a vote of 25–21.[iii] The House accepted the Senate’s changes and passed the bill 60–55 on June 25, sending it to Gov. Beverly Perdue who signed the bill into law on June 29.[iv]
The reworking of the original bill that would have allowed parents the option between enrolling their child in one track or the other is a disappointment to Rep. Susan Fisher (D-Buncombe), a main co-sponsor of the Healthy Youth Act. Fisher originally stated that the revised bill, “…will not give parents the full spectrum of choices that we had wanted to offer them. It will limit our ability to get that solid, medically accurate information out to all children, and those who need it the most in a lot of cases.”[v] However, after the legislation passed, Fisher stated that, “More students now will be able to have access to accurate information. The more information they have, the less likely they are to engage in sex before they are ready to.”[vi] Socially conservative lawmakers also seem content with the revisions. Sen. Jim Forrester (R-Gaston) said he was pleased that parents would still be able to opt out their children from the comprehensive portion of the curriculum, stating that, “It does preserve abstinence until marriage.”[vii]
North Carolinians themselves showed overwhelming support for the original bill. One survey found that 69 percent of North Carolina voters supported the proposal in the General Assembly, with majority support from almost every demographic, including 58 percent of conservatives and 54 percent of Republicans.[viii]
On the other side of the country, however, there was an entirely different result. Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski (D) recently signed House Bill 2509 into law that requires all public elementary and secondary schools to provide “age-appropriate human sexuality education” as an “integral part of the health education curriculum.”[ix] The bill passed 20–9. Oregon is one of the few states that already requires schools to provide comprehensive sex education, but this new bill adds additional explicit directions that teacher’s lessons must be medically accurate and include more information about contraception and the risks of STDs.[x] The bill also “…mandates that schools promote abstinence, for school-age youth, and mutually monogamous relationships with an uninfected partner, for adults, as the most effective way to prevent pregnancy and the transmission of STDs.”[xi]
Supporters of comprehensive sex education are pleased with Oregon’s updated bill. Michael Kaplan, Executive Director of Cascade AIDS Project, stated that the bill,”...Not only strengthens the requirement of sex education in the schools, but ensures youth are aware of a broad array of options and that information presented is medically accurate.” Adding, “Of course the next battle is to ensure adequate resources are made available to schools so they can fulfill the spirit of the legislation.”
While these two examples resulted in different outcomes, together they represent a discussion that stretches from coast to coast and shows that there is the will across the country to secure and institutionalize the best sex education in our schools as possible," said William Smith, SIECUS' vice president for public policy.
[i] Gary D. Robertson, “NC Senate panel approves changes to sex ed bill,” The News and Observer, 10 June 2009, accessed on 15 June 2009, <http://www.newsobserver.com/1565/story/1563705.html>.
[ii] James Romoser, “Bill would standardize sex ed”, Journal Raleigh Bureau, 11 June 2009,, accessed on 15 June 2009, <http://www2.journalnow.com/content/2009/jun/11/bill-would-standardize-sex-ed/>.
[iii] James Romoser, “ Sex-ed bill gets moved forward,” Journal Raleigh Bureau, 24 June 2009, accessed on 26 June 2009, <http://www2.journalnow.com/content/2009/jun/24/sex-ed-bill-gets-moved-forward/>.
[iv] Lynn Bonner, “Sex-ed to get a lot more explicit,” The News and Observer, 26 June 2009, accessed on 26 June 2009, <http://www.newsobserver.com/news/health_science/story/1584168.html>
[v] Robertson, “NC Senate panel approves changes to sex ed bill.”
[vi] Jordan Schrader, “Legislature signs off on sex-ed changes,” Ashevile Citizen Times, 26 June 2009, accessed on 1 July 2009, <http://www.citizen-times.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090626/NEWS01/90626033>
[vii] Romoser, “Bill would standardize sex ed.”
[viii] “Overwhelming support for Sex Ed bill,” Press Release, Public Policy Polling, 23 February 2009, accessed on 15 June 2009, <http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/pdf/PPP_Release_NC_223.pdf>.
[ix] Bill Graves, “Oregon Senate passes sex-education bill”, The Oregonian, 19 May 2009, accessed on 15 June 2009, <http://www.oregonlive.com/news/oregonian/index.ssf?/base/news/1242692708185370.xml&coll=7>.