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Lawmakers Push Mandatory Sex Ed For K-12 In Illinois

Olivia Mitchell
NPR Illinois

Lawmakers are considering whether to make comprehensive sexual education mandatory for grades K-12 in public schools across the state.

Such classes are currently optional. The Responsible Education for Adolescent and Children’s Health (REACH) Act would require schools to inform students about a range of age appropriate issues — including sexual orientation, child abuse, and bullying.

Tre Graham, youth representative for the Rainbow Cafe LGBT Youth Center in Carbondale, self-identifies as queer. A senior at Marion High School in southern Illinois, Graham feels personally let down by their sexual education.

“We learn nothing about healthy and diverse relationships, about consent, about sexual harassment or personal safety,” Graham said. “When school districts can ignore the health and wellness of a whole community, we are left to figure things out on our own.”

Backers of the plan say it’s important for all children to have factual medical information.

Parents who do not agree with the content of sexual education classes can opt out on behalf of their child.

The legislation would mandate a curriculum that focuses on healthy relationships, consent, and sexual identity.

Brigid Leahy of Planned Parenthood of Illinois said the classes must be medically accurate, culturally inclusive, and age appropriate.

“That means instruction is tailored to the particular grade and age range of the students,” Leahy said. “In the younger grades ... the focus is on things like personal safety, and what it means to be a good friend.”

For example, students in grades K-2 would be instructed to focus on respecting each other and identifying trusted adults, whereas students in grades 6-12 would focus on issues like consent, sexual harassment, abuse, and interpersonal violence.

Leahy also said this kind of education would lead youth in Illinois to have positive, healthy, and fulfilling futures.

If approved, the legislation would be phased in, so schools and teachers have time to prepare.

Backers say there are currently 29 other states that mandate sex education.

The legislation is Senate Bill 2762.

Olivia Mitchell is a graduate Public Affairs Reporting intern for the spring 2020 legislative session.
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