SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois House passed legislation on Friday, May 28 updating the state’s sex education curriculum in a partisan split.
The bill, which creates a new “personal health and safety” curriculum for grades K-5, and a “sexual health education” for grades 6-12, received resistance from Republican lawmakers and religious groups for its “culturally appropriate” guidelines, including education on gender identities, different types of families, sexual orientation, consent and a woman’s options during pregnancy.
The legislation, an amendment to Senate Bill 818, passed the Senate last week on a 37-18 vote along partisan lines. Floor debate was punctuated with contentious speeches, with Xenia Republican Sen. Darren Bailey referring to the bill as “perversion” multiple times while urging a “no” vote.
One issue at the heart of the contention is what Republicans have referred to as the bill’s “all-or-nothing” approach.
Under current law, parents and guardians may opt their student out of sex education classes with no penalty. That provision would remain in the new legislation.
While a previous version of the legislation set a mandatory deadline by which all schools would be required to teach sex ed, the most recent amendment allows each individual school district to determine whether it will teach the subject.
However, if a district decides to offer sexual health education, the curriculum must use all or part of the curriculum established by the bill.
Republican lawmakers in the Senate argued school districts downstate and in rural areas would choose to not offer sex education rather than choosing to offer a curriculum that is contrary to the values and beliefs of their residents. They said it would result in fewer students having access to essential sexual health information.
The actual statewide curriculum based on the guidelines for sexual health education and personal health and safety would be developed by the Illinois State Board of Education by Aug. 1, 2022.
But many of the guidelines contained in the statute require that sex ed curricula be aligned with National Sex Education Standards, an initiative by non-government organizations to provide “guidance on essential minimum core content and skills needed for sex education that is age-appropriate.”
Washington and Colorado are the only two states using those standards in sexual health education.
Republicans balked at aligning state education standards to out-of-state guidelines designed by individuals unaffiliated with government entities, some of whom are listed in the standards as representing Planned Parenthood.
The three main groups behind the standards are Answer, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States and Advocates for Youth.
“These are independent experts,” Rep. Camille Lilly, D-Chicago, the bill’s sponsor in the House, said when questioned by Republican Rep. Avery Bourne, of Morrisonville.
The National Sex Education Standards are in their second edition, and, according to Lilly, ISBE would adjust the state’s curriculum under the law to be in alignment with new editions as they are released.
The guidelines call on students, by the end of second grade, to be able to identify and medically name parts of the human body, including genitals, and be able to define gender, gender identity, and gender roles.
In the interest of enhancing childhood safety and autonomy, the guidelines also require students by the end of second grade be able to define consent, personal boundaries, child sexual abuse and how to report child sexual abuse to a trusted adult.
For those in grade 8, which usually includes children whose ages range from 12 to 13, the guidelines say they should know how to access short-term and long-term contraception and what methods of contraception that can be obtained without a prescription.
After passing the House with the exact minimum 60 votes required, SB 818 now heads to the governor for his signature.
“Thirty years of research has shown that this education can be highly effective in supporting positive health outcomes and youth such as substance abuse prevention, delaying and initiating sex, increasing use of contraceptives and condoms, decrease rates of bullying, increased quality of mental health, decrease gender-based harassment and decrease interpersonal and dating violence,” Lilly said. “It’s about young people being able to get the information to keep them safe, and keep them healthy.”