By Jamey Dunn
Legislation that would end abstinence-only sex education in the state’s public schools is headed to Gov. Pat Quinn, who is expected to sign the bill.
House Bill 2675 would require schools that teach sexual education to provide students with information that is “age-appropriate, medically accurate, evidence-based and complete." Schools would have discretion to decide which curriculum meets those requirements, and parents could opt to keep children out of sex education if they don’t approve of the curriculum. An attempt to pass a similar bill last year fell short of the needed support.
Chicago Democratic Sen. Heather Steans, the sponsor of the bill, said that the intent of the bill is to ensure that students learn about safe sex in addition to abstinence because studies show “there are districts where they’re not teaching complete, medically accurate, age-appropriate sex education curriculum. ... Abstinence only, for example is shown to be not as effective at giving kids the ability to, one, reduce the likelihood that they’re going to engage in sexual intercourse, or two, know how to prevent unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases.” According to a 2008 study from the University of Chicago, 93 percent of Illinois schools offer sexual education, but only 42 percent give information on how to use and obtain contraceptives. Less than a third of those teaching to classes had any formal training on the topic.
Opponents said that decisions about sex education curriculum should be left to local school districts, and abstinence-only education should be an option for those districts that choose to use it. “That’s the issue here, is whether or not a school district will be allowed to teach any kind of sex education class that does not talk about contraception. And the answer to that is clearly no because that’s what’s in the bill,” said Sen. Dale Righter, a Mattoon Republican. Righter said that teaching kids about contraceptives might not protect them. He pointed to Chicago, which has comprehensive sex education and high rates of sexually transmitted infections when compared with the rest of the state. “Telling a teenager, a 15- or a 16-year-old or a 13-year-old: ‘You’ll be fine. You can do it. Just get the condom on, man,’ gives a false send of security that is absolutely not real.”
Steans said the bill calls for schools to emphasize abstinence as a positive choice and the only way to absolutely protect against sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies.
Some Republican opponents said that embracing such sex education would send a permissive message to teenagers. They specifically complained that the bill would change the current law by removing a provision that said sexual education would presume that abstinence was the norm for students. “Have we given up on that? It sounds like we have simply given up on those standards that we all agree should happen,” said Okawville Republican Sen. David Luechtefeld.
But supporters said that giving kids information is not the same as telling them it is OK to have sex. “Information, factually accurate information in these decisions that our children have to make, is power. It is not permission. We need to give them the tools they need to have to make the best choices that they can, hopefully in accordance with what we as parents instill in them as they are coming up,” said Olympia Fields Democratic Sen. Toi Hutchinson. “But they need to get factual, accurate information so that when they’re making these choices, they’re not making it based on what some kid around the corner told them. The fact [is], parents today are not just competing against other kids, we’re competing with 700, 800 different channels and social media and the Internet. ... When we send them to school, I want them to go to school and get factually accurate, medically sound information that helps them do the best they can with the values we’ve instilled in them, to protect themselves and the people around them.”
A spokesperson for Quinn said the governor supports the bill.