Hawaii’s State Board of Education mandated comprehensive, medically accurate sex education in all public schools yesterday, overturning a policy that made Hawaii one of only 10 states that does not require teaching some form of sex ed.
The new requirement, which will take effect starting with the next school year in September, was decided on a 5-1 vote after hours of contentious debate.
The previous policy left the decision on whether or not to teach sex ed up to individual schools, and required parents to opt-in for their children to be enrolled in sex ed classes. Now, parents will have the ability to opt-out of sex ed for their kids.
In a 2013 CDC survey, 54.1 percent of sexually active Hawaii teens reported that they didn’t use a condom the last time they had sex—a higher percentage than in any other state. Moreover, 49 percent of middle schoolers said they hadn’t learned about HIV or AIDS in a 2013 survey.
"This is a step in the right direction," Diana Thu-Thao Rhodes, the director of public policy at Advocates for Youth, a national advocacy group, told Fusion. "It ensures that young people have access to sex ed, which is key in helping them take personal responsibility for their health and wellbeing." The previous policy led to a "patchwork of policy around the state," she said.
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Nonetheless, not everyone who spoke at the hearing was behind the BOE proposal: it “continues to push social engineering over the health and safety of our children,” said Rep. Bob McDermott, a conservative who in the past has railed against including the use of the word "anus" in sex ed curricula.
The new curriculum will still emphasize abstinence as "the best way to prevent pregnancy and avoid sexually transmitted diseases," while still giving students information about contraceptives and age-appropriate information about sex, Civil Beat reported.
Around the country, nine other states don't require any form of sex ed to be taught, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit that studies reproductive health education. Only thirteen other states require that sex ed be medically accurate.
"We hope that other states will move in this same direction," Rhodes said, "but it really depends on the state."
Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.