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Lawmakers Send Controversial Sex Education Standards Bill To Governor


The Illinois General Assembly on Friday narrowly approved a proposal calling for state sex education curriculum in grades K-12 to be “culturally competent and medically accurate.”

Read more: GOP Lawmakers Say ‘National Sex Education Standards’ Are Too Explicit For Illinois Schools

If signed into law by Gov. JB Pritzker, Illinois schools that choose to offer sex education courses would be required to align content matter with the National Sex Education Standards , a byproduct of the Future for Sex Education iniative.

Proponents of the bill said sex education content would be scaffolded among different grade levels according to age-appropriateness, such as offering more of a focus on different family structures and distinguishing “good touch” from “bad touch” in younger grades.

The standards would also include learning objectives related to the diversity of gender and sexual orientations, emphasizing the importance of consent and identifying signs of abusive romantic relationships.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago), who is openly gay, argued adopting LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum like the national standards could help to prevent teens from feeling ostracized and even suicidal.

“For far too long, LGBTQ youth were either invisible or expressly stigmatized, and I remember that — it burned into my soul,” Cassidy said. “As a kid who didn't understand why I didn't fit in, who couldn't define why I felt different, and whose parents were not an option to go to. I wish I had had a teacher I could turn to; I wish I had had a curriculum that didn't call me unnatural.”

But Republican lawmakers, and even a handful of Democrats, argued the most recent version of the standards includes too-explicit material for students in elementary and middle school.

“The goal of sex education is to help young people grow into healthier sexual relationships and healthier adults,” State Rep. Tony McCombie (R-Savanna) said. “[The bill] is not age appropriate, it is sexually charged.”

State Rep. Fred Crespo (D-Hoffman Estates) asked if any state had yet aligned their state sex education standards to the national guidlines that were revised last year. Illinois would be the first.

He also took issue that schools must either use standard-aligned curriculum, or not teach sex ed at all.

“The thing that bothers me the most is that, I know it’s permissive, but we’re telling schools that if you don't use these standards you cannot teach sex ed,” Crespo said. “That concerns me a bit because I think we do need sex ed at our schools.”

Illinois parents will still maintain the ability to opt their children out of sex education courses if they so chose.

The bill narrowly passed by a vote of 60-48, with a handful of Democratic members voting against it or abstaining from voting.

Derek Cantù is NPR Illinois' graduate student Public Affairs Reporting intern for the spring 2021 legislative session.
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