Although students’ need for sexual health education is consistent across California, the instruction they receive is not. Some students receive current and comprehensive information, while others receive little to none.
It’s important that all young people have access to this valuable and life-saving information that they need to make informed decisions and that can even improve academic outcomes. These benefits should not be dependent on which district you live in.
Which is why we’re delighted that Gov. Jerry Brown has signed the California Healthy Youth Act, Assembly Bill 329, to ensure students receive HIV prevention education and sex education that is accurate and comprehensive. The law will update outdated information about HIV and AIDS; clarify requirements that instruction be appropriate for students of all sexual orientations and genders; and ensure that young people are getting information about how to prevent relationship abuse and other unhealthy behaviors.
Until now, the law requiring HIV prevention education in our schools was 20 years out of date. Schools are a critical environment for providing young people with knowledge and skills for developing healthy relationships and preventing unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Schools need uniform guidance because different requirements make it difficult for districts to figure out how to address the subject; sometimes critical information falls through the cracks.
In Fresno, students took charge and led an effort to bring comprehensive sex education to their district. In Redwood City, a comprehensive policy was approved by the school board. Other districts only offer the minimum that has been required, or less, denying students the broader information that research shows is most effective in supporting adolescent health.
According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics, more than 60 percent of teens are sexually active by age 18. Rates of sexually transmitted diseases are rising in California and are highest in young people ages 15 to 24. More than 80 percent of births to teens are unintended, and California’s teen birth rate remains higher than that of other industrialized countries. We can’t ignore these statistics.
As parents, we can discuss sex education with our kids, but we don’t always have the most current information. If our children learn science-based information in school, we can add our personal and cultural values at home.
This new law is common sense. An overwhelming 89 percent of California parents want comprehensive sex education in schools. The California School Boards Association, the California PTA, the Association of California School Administrators and the California state superintendent of public instruction all supported this bill.
The act brings our state’s sex education policy clearly into focus and ensures that all young people have access to the tools they need to make safe and healthy decisions. Gov. Brown has shown great leadership by signing it.
Shelly Masur is a Redwood City school board member and the mother of three teenagers. Joe Saenz is a single father of six girls, including one who participated in the effort to bring sex education to the Fresno School District.