Frequently Asked QuestionsQuestions and answers regarding comprehensive sexual health education, HIV/AIDS and STD instruction.
Are schools required to teach comprehensive sexual health education?
No. Schools are not required to teach sex education. Education Code (EC) Section 51931(b) defines comprehensive sexual health education as: "Education regarding human development and sexuality, including education on pregnancy, family planning, and STDs."
If schools choose to teach comprehensive sexual health education, they shall follow specific laws regarding course content and parental notification, as described below.
Are schools required to teach HIV/AIDS prevention education?
Yes. Since 1992, California public schools have been required to teach HIV/AIDS prevention education at least once in middle school and once in high school. EC Section 51931(d) defines HIV/AIDS prevention education as: “Instruction on the nature of HIV/AIDS, methods of transmission, strategies to reduce the risk of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, and social and public health issues related to HIV/AIDS.”
How many schools provide comprehensive sexual health education, even though it is not mandated?
According to Sex Education in California Public Schools (PDF) (survey conducted PB Consulting, 2003), 96 percent of California school districts provide comprehensive sexual health education.
If schools do provide comprehensive sexual health education, what must it include?
EC Section 51933 requires that comprehensive sexual health education shall be age appropriate; medically accurate and objective; available on an equal basis to English language learners; appropriate for use with pupils of all races, genders, sexual orientations, and ethnic and cultural backgrounds; and appropriate for and accessible to pupils with disabilities. This education shall encourage students to communicate with their parents or guardians about human sexuality and shall also teach respect for marriage and committed relationships. It shall not teach or promote religious doctrine nor reflect or promote bias against any person on the basis of any category protected by the non-discrimination policy codified in EC Section 220.
In accordance with EC Section 51933, in grades seven through twelve sex education classes shall also teach about:
- abstinence from sexual activity
- STDs, including their transmission, treatment, and prevention and information about the effectiveness and safety of all Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved methods reducing the risk of contracting STDs
- the effectiveness and safety of all contraceptive methods approved by the FDA
- the California law allowing parents to surrender newborn babies to hospitals or other designated sites without legal penalty.
In grades seven through twelve, sex education classes shall also provide students with skills for making and implementing responsible decisions about sexuality. All of the above topics may also be included in classes taught prior to seventh grade.
What must be included in HIV/AIDS prevention instruction?
EC Section 51934 requires that HIV/AIDS prevention education shall align with the general criteria governing comprehensive sexual health education. Specifically, HIV/AIDS prevention education shall be:
- age appropriate
- medically accurate and objective
- available on an equal basis to English language learners
- appropriate for use with pupils of all races, genders, sexual orientations, ethnic and cultural backgrounds
- appropriate for and accessible to pupils with disabilities.
This education shall encourage students to communicate with their parents or guardians about human sexuality. It may not teach or promote religious doctrine nor reflect or promote bias against any person on the basis of any category protected by the non-discrimination policy codified in EC Section 220.
In accordance with EC Section 51934, HIV/AIDS prevention instruction shall provide information on:
- the nature of HIV/AIDS and its effects on the body
- HIV transmission
- methods to reduce the risk of HIV infection, including both abstinence and condoms
- public health issues associated with HIV/AIDS (such as the role of STDs in increasing risk of HIV transmission and HIV infection).
Classes shall also provide information on local resources for HIV testing and medical care; shall assist students in developing refusal and decision-making skills; and shall include discussion about societal views on HIV/AIDS, including stereotypes and myths regarding people living with AIDS. This instruction shall emphasize compassion for people living with AIDS.
At what grade level is comprehensive sexual health education to be taught?
EC Section 51933 states that a school district may provide comprehensive sexual health education consisting of age-appropriate instruction in any grade from kindergarten through grade twelve. No specific topics are required to be taught in elementary grades; however, commencing in seventh grade, if comprehensive sexual health education is taught, districts shall comply with requirements outlined in EC 51933(b)(8-12).
At what grade level is HIV/AIDS education to be taught?
EC Section 51934 states that all pupils in grades seven through twelve shall receive HIV/AIDS prevention education at least once in junior high or middle school and at least once in high school.
What curricula are used for comprehensive sexual health education and HIV prevention instruction?
Selection of curricula is decided by local school districts and school boards. These curricula shall be research-based, medically and factually accurate, and otherwise in compliance with EC requirements. The CDE recommends that local educational agencies (LEAs) go to California Healthy Kids Resource Center (CHKRC) to view curricula and instructional materials that have been evaluated by a Materials Review Board.
What does the EC say about abstinence?
EC Section 51933 requires that instruction and materials: teach that abstinence from sexual intercourse is the only certain way to prevent unintended pregnancy; teach that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to prevent STDs; and provide information about the importance of abstinence while also providing medically accurate information on other methods of preventing pregnancy and STDs.
May California public schools provide abstinence-only education?No. EC Section 51933, prohibits “abstinence-only” education, in which information about preventing pregnancy and STDs is limited to instruction on abstinence from sexual activity.
EC Section 51933 requires that classes that provide instruction on human development and sexuality in grades seven through twelve shall include medically accurate, up-to-date information about all FDA-approved methods for: 1) reducing the risk of contracting STDs, and 2) preventing pregnancy. Classes that provide instruction on HIV/AIDS prevention shall include medically accurate, up-to-date information on methods to reduce the risk of HIV infection, including the effectiveness rates of condoms and other contraceptives.
Instruction that emphasizes the benefits of abstinence while focusing exclusively on the failure rates or perceived disadvantages of condoms and other contraceptives is also prohibited by law. This would violate legal requirements that the instruction cover the effectiveness and safety (not solely the ineffectiveness) of condoms and other contraceptive methods and would also violate requirements that the instruction be medically accurate and objective.
What determines whether the facts taught are medically accurate?
As defined in EC Section 51931(f), instruction is medically accurate if it is verified or supported by research conducted in compliance with scientific methods and published in peer reviewed journals and recognized as accurate and objective by agencies with expertise in the field, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Public Health Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Further, EC Section 51934 (b) states that medically accurate information may also be obtained from the United States Surgeon General and the National Academy of Sciences.
What does the EC say about providing sex education and HIV/STD instruction to students who may be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered?
EC sections 51933(b)(4) and 51934(b) require that instruction be appropriate for use with students of all sexual orientations and clearly states that part of the intent of the law is "to encourage a pupil to develop healthy attitudes concerning adolescent growth and development, body image, gender roles, sexual orientation, dating, marriage, and family." The law prohibits sex education classes from teaching or promoting religious doctrine and from promoting bias against anyone on the basis of any category protected by the state's school nondiscrimination policy, EC Section 220, which includes actual or perceived gender and sexual orientation.
All comprehensive sexual health education and HIV instruction, including topics such as sexual development, dating, family, and protection from STDs and pregnancy, must encompass the experiences of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students as well as those of their heterosexual classmates.
What does the EC say about providing sex education and HIV/STD instruction to students with disabilities?
EC sections 51933(b)(4)(5) and 51934(b) require that instruction and materials are appropriate for use with pupils with disabilities and are accessible to them. This includes, but is not limited to, “the provision of a modified curriculum, materials and instruction in alternative formats, and auxiliary aids.”
What does the EC say about providing sex education and HIV/STD instruction to students who are English learners?
EC sections 51933(b)(3) and 51934(b) require that instruction be made available on an equal basis to pupils who are English learners, whether they are placed in English immersion classes or alternative bilingual education classes. The instruction they receive must be consistent with the existing sex education curriculum.
In addition, the law requires that sexual health education classes be appropriate for use with students of all races and ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
Do parents and/or guardians need to be informed if their child is to receive sex education or HIV/STD instruction?
Yes. The law recognizes that while parents and guardians support the teaching of medically accurate, comprehensive sex education in schools, they have the ultimate responsibility for teaching their children about human sexuality; they may choose to withdraw their children from this instruction.
EC sections 51937 and 51938 explain that parents or guardians must be notified (passive consent) by the school at the beginning of the school year about planned comprehensive sexual health education and HIV/AIDS prevention education, be given an opportunity to review materials, and be given the opportunity to request in writing that their child not participate in the instruction.
In addition, to facilitate the collection of data needed by researchers to evaluate the effectiveness of sex education and other teen pregnancy prevention efforts, the law has modified the parental consent procedures governing student assessments. This law permits schools to administer anonymous, voluntary, confidential, age-appropriate surveys or questionnaires in which students are asked about their health risk behavior, including sexual activities and attitudes. Parents must be notified of any planned assessments, be given the opportunity to review the assessments and, in grades seven through twelve, and be given the opportunity to request in writing that their children not participate. Prior to seventh grade, parents must give their active consent in order for their child to participate.
These parental notification and consent policies apply only to sexual health education, HIV/AIDS prevention education, and related assessments.
Does the law permit the use of outside speakers to deliver sex education or HIV/STD instruction?
Yes. According to EC sections 51933 and 51934, schools may enter into agreements with outside agencies with expertise to provide comprehensive sexual health and/or HIV/STD prevention education, or to provide training to school personnel. Instruction provided by outside instructors shall comply with the same requirements as instruction provided by teachers employed by the school district.
Does the law require teachers providing sex education and HIV/STD instruction to be trained?
Yes. Mandated HIV/AIDS prevention education shall be taught by instructors trained in the appropriate courses. If school districts choose to teach comprehensive sexual health education, this subject shall also be taught by instructors trained in the appropriate courses. EC Section 51931(e) defines “instructors trained in the appropriate courses” as: “instructors with knowledge of the most recent medically accurate research on human sexuality, pregnancy, and STDs.”
In addition, school districts shall provide periodic training to teachers providing HIV/AIDS prevention education to enable them to learn about new developments in the scientific understanding of HIV/AIDS. Teachers with a demonstrated expertise in the field or who have received training from the CDE or the CDC need not receive additional training from their district. School districts may expand the training they provide to include the topic of comprehensive sexual health education.
Who typically provides sex education and HIV/STD instruction?
Individuals assigned to provide sex education and HIV/STD instruction are selected locally and typically include regular classroom teachers, health education teachers, school nurses, and trainers from community-based organizations, such as the American Red Cross, Planned Parenthood, local health departments, and AIDS service agencies.
Does the CDE receive funding to provide statewide leadership for sex education and HIV/STD instruction?
The CDE receives a $325,000 grant from the CDC to provide limited statewide leadership for HIV/STD and teen pregnancy prevention.
How are districts able to pay for providing HIV/AIDS instruction and training?
Because HIV/AIDS instruction and training is mandated by EC sections 51934 and 51935, local educational agencies may submit claims to the State Controller's Office for reimbursement for costs incurred (Government Code Section 17561). See the State Controller for more information.
What kinds of HIV/AIDS instruction costs can be reimbursed as a mandated claim?
A district may recover costs for:
- Providing parental notification regarding HIV/AIDS instruction
- Printing and postage for the required notification
- In-service training
- Developing in-service training programs and materials
- Developing/updating curricula and materials
- Selecting and purchasing curricula and instructional materials
- Planning HIV/AIDS prevention instruction
- Holding curriculum reviews for parents
- Making alternative education activities available
- Nonclassroom teacher costs of instructing students on HIV/AIDS prevention in mandated grade levels (includes nurses, resource teachers, consultants, and outside speakers).
How does the CDE ensure that schools are complying with the EC for HIV/AIDS instruction and teacher training?
Because schools serving students in grades seven through twelve are required to provide HIV/AIDS instruction and train teachers providing that instruction, the HIV/AIDS program is included in the CDE's Compliance Monitoring process.
What data sources does the CDE use to track the rate of teen births and adolescents with HIV/AIDS and other STDs?
The CDE uses STD local health jurisdiction data collected and reported by the California Department of Health Services, Office of Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health, Office of AIDS, and the STD Control Branch to track teen birth rates, AIDS, HIV, and STD cases.
What data are collected on student sexual risk-taking behaviors?
For behavioral data, the CDE relies on the national biennial Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) conducted by the CDC. Further, there are numerous Web sites that reflect current trends and research on these topics.
An optional module of the California Healthy Kids Survey also allows schools to collect information on a number of health topics, including sexual behavior (pregnancy and HIV/AIDS risk). The items in this optional module are largely derived from the YRBS. Questions address sexual experience, patterns, and attitudes; pregnancy history; HIV-related risk behaviors; number of partners (a risk factor for HIV); perception of peer behavioral norms; use of contraception; alcohol and other drug use before sexual intercourse; family discussion; and exposure to HIV/AIDS education.