State senators offer 17 changes to Sex Education bill

Ahead of floor debate on Thursday (Jan. 16), one member of the state Senate’s diminished Republican caucus is proposing to require school districts to hold a local vote before schools can offer sex education.

The Senate is scheduled to take up a bill (S 2459) that would require all public school districts that offer sex education to ensure that their program teaches “medically accurate and age-appropriate” information, including LGBTQ-inclusive material and discussion of consent and healthy relationships.

Seventeen amendments were filed by Monday evening’s deadline, including one from Sen. Dean Tran of Fitchburg that would require school districts to hold public hearings and a vote “from the school district.” It’s unclear as written whether that vote could be taken by the School Committee, or if residents would have to vote.

Tran’s is one of seven amendments filed by Senate Republicans, many of which seek to build in local and parental control. Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr has proposed to make sure parents have at least 30 days to review the sex education program materials before deciding whether to opt their child out of the instruction.

Tarr is also proposing an amendment that has been adopted in the Senate in the past to add considerations relative to becoming a parent to the curriculum.

The Senate passed the bill in each of the last two sessions by votes of 32-6 in 2015 and 31-6 in 2017. The Republican caucus, which has supplied the opposition in past debates, is even smaller currently, with just four members.

Several Democrats have also proposed changes to the bill, including a Sen. Becca Rausch amendment that would require the teaching of “the potential physical and emotional health outcomes of sexual activity” rather than the “benefits of abstinence and delaying sexual activity.”