Late last week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law a new measure to update sex education for K-12 schools in Illinois.
Supporters say the move will offer age-appropriate information, including teaching younger students about their personal health and safety. But critics say the new standards go too far.
The law directs the Illinois State Board of Education to develop a curriculum guided by the National Sex Education Standards, which cover a wide array of topics including consent and healthy relationships, anatomy and physiology, puberty and adolescent sexual development, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation and identity, sexual health, and interpersonal violence.
State Sen. Ram Villivalam, a Democrat from Chicago and one of the law’s sponsors, says the new standards are “age and developmentally appropriate, medically accurate, and inclusive.”
“There’s been a rise in child sex abuse scandals, sexual harassment in the workplace, sexual assault on college campuses, and bullying of LGBTQ students and people of color,” Villivalam said. “Our youth … need medically and factually accurate information, as well as a safe environment to develop the skills they need to navigate our modern world.”
State Rep. Tony McCombie, a Republican from Savanna in Northwestern Illinois who opposed the law, says there’s bipartisan agreement “that we want kids to know the difference of good touch (and) bad touch, bullying, health and safety precautions, (and) consent. But … this curriculum will be designed on the National Sex Education Standards, and that’s where I have an issue.”
In addition to her concerns about Illinois basing its curriculum on national standards, McCombie also questions whether all the topics covered are age appropriate. “What one feels is appropriate for K through 3, another might not,” she said.
But Villivalam says the focus for younger grades, for example, is topics like “personal safety, what it means to be a good friend, good touch and bad touch, being able to talk to parents and trusted adults.”
Parents can still opt their children out of sex education, and districts that don’t teach it won’t have to follow the new standards. ISBE has until August 2022 to develop the curriculum.