Why one state’s updated sex education standards led hundreds of districts to opt out

544 school districts say they're not adopting Illinois' new sex ed curriculum, which would require students to differentiate and define "cisgender, transgender, gender nonbinary, gender expansive, and gender identity" by fifth grade,

Sex education curricula are getting a makeover in some states as they endeavor to create a more welcoming and inclusive learning environment for all students.

Last August, Illinois legislators voted to approve updated sex education standards in accordance with the National Sex Education Standards that took effect before the 2022-23 school year. The content was developed by the Future of Sex Education Initiative, a partnership between SIECUS: Sex Ed for Social Change, Advocates for Youth and Answer.

“Modernizing our sex education standards will help keep our children safe and ensure important lessons like consent and internet safety are taught in classrooms,” said Illinois Governor JB Pritzker in a statement.

Illinois is the only state that has adopted the updated standards, according to Awake Illinois, an organization that educates its citizens on issues affecting their communities.

Standards are broken down by grade level: K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-10, and 11-12. Parents are expressing their concerns over the content that their children are expected to learn, labeling the curriculum inappropriate for young students.

By the end of fifth grade, students will be able to “describe the role hormones play in the physical, social, cognitive, and emotional changes during adolescence and the potential role of hormone blockers on young people who identify as transgender,” according to the report.

Students should also be able to “define and explain differences between cisgender, transgender, gender nonbinary, gender expansive, and gender identity.”

However, school districts aren’t required to adopt the standards “unless they are teaching comprehensive sexual health education,” according to a press release from the state. In addition, parents can choose to opt their children out of the curriculum.

According to the latest data from Awake Illinois, 544 school districts have opted out, meaning they are not implementing the new sex education standards. Meanwhile, only 24 districts say they’re adopting the curriculum.


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The organization launched the Parental Rights Initiative in April, advocating for the right of parents to make decisions important to the upbringing and control of their children.

“After two years of failed pandemic policies, an abysmal state schools report card, classroom activism/socialism replacing academics, and worrisome mental health stats of our youth, a sleeping giant has awakened and we go by ‘Mom and Dad,'” said Awake Illinois President Shannon Adcock in a statement.

Similarly, one Wisconsin school district voted to implement a new human growth and development curriculum last week for the first time in 10 years to be implemented this school year. After a 6-1 vote, the Wauwatosa School District approved the new sex-ed curriculum.

Like Illinois, the district used the NSES as the foundation for its updated curriculum. However, it received strong support from the community as 64.5% said they “strongly agreed” with the curriculum.

In other states, sex education is not so inclusive. Most notably, Florida schools entered the new school year under Governor Ron DeSantis’ Parental Rights in Education law, otherwise known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The bill prohibits discussion on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.

“Parents’ rights have been increasingly under assault around the nation, but in Florida we stand up for the rights of parents and the fundamental role they play in the education of their children,” said DeSantis in a statement.

Micah Ward
Micah Wardhttp://districtadministration.com
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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