Sex-ed bill heads to House; meanwhile, local fights continue

THE SENATE PASSED a sex-ed bill on Thursday with more Republican support than in the past, but it’s heading to the House where Speaker Bob DeLeo has not yet committed to taking it up.

DeLeo said in May that sex education  was “on our radar” to look at, drawing attention to the fact that the language of the bill has been adjusted.

Under the new bill, schools offering sex education would be required to provide medically accurate and age-appropriate information, including LGBTQ-inclusive materials, while allowing parents to opt their children out. The bill also places an emphasis on consent, an issue that has been brought into the spotlight during the #MeToo movement.

Advocates say that the move will help prevent pregnancy, sexual assault ,and curb sexually transmitted infection rates among youth.

A 2018 study cited by the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, which submitted testimony in favor of the bill, found that more than 7 percent of all high school students report having been sexually assaulted, with 11 percent of young women and 3 percent of young men saying they have survived an act of sexual violence.

Everett Democrat Sal DiDomenico, the bill’s lead sponsor, says that youth are learning information that is “not accurate and could be dangerous for their health.”

The bill passed the Senate 33-2. Republicans Dean Tran of Fitchburg and Ryan Fattman of Sutton voted against it. But, unlike last session, the Senate’s other two Republicans, Minority Leader Bruce Tarr and Weymouth’s Patrick O’Connor, voted in favor of the legislation. In 2017, Tarr pushed for allowing parents to opt in if they wanted their children to learn the material rather than requiring them to opt out.

Tran argued in favor of an amendment that could prove to be the greatest sticking point in the House debate — whether districts updating their curriculum should be required to hold public hearings and a vote on the topic.

That very practice was in the news last year when the Worcester School Committee called off action on a new sex-ed curriculum in a district that officials say is without comprehensive sex education. Worcester Magazine uncovered emails showing how Mary Mullaney, a socially conservative former school committee member, tried to block the curriculum by lobbying key figures in the decision-making process, including Worcester Superintendent Maureen Binienda.

The school committee, has added new sex-ed curriculum to its agenda, and began meeting last night.

Meanwhile, Gov. Charlie Baker, who is pro-choice, has increased funding for sexual education programming that focuses on contraception. He signed a bipartisan contraception bill in 2017 requiring insurers to cover birth control without a copay. He has not yet weighed in on the Senate vote or indicated if he would sign the legislation should it pass the House.

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Massachusetts Republican Party chairman Jim Lyons, however, didn’t mince words in weighing in on the measure. “It allows Planned Parenthood to syphon more taxpayer dollars, and at the same time promotes a reckless curriculum encouraging children to participate in dangerous sexual activity, all under the mask of progressivism,” Lyons said.

Organizations like the Massachusetts Family Institute and Mass GOP oppose any statewide legislation related to sex-ed, with the Family Institute’s president, Andrew Beckwith, saying it takes away control from school districts, and promotes contraception that some parents might deem inappropriate.

The House version of the bill, co-filed by West Boylston Rep. Jim O’Day, has 97 reps listed as cosponsors, a jump of more than 20 since the last go around.