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California Department of Education
Official Letter
California Department of Education
Official Letter
April 5, 2018

Dear County and District Superintendents, Charter School Administrators, and High School Principals:

California Healthy Youth Act—Comprehensive
Sexual Health Education

I am writing to inform you of the law regarding the California Healthy Youth Act 2016 as it pertains to comprehensive sexual health education. There have been many questions surrounding this law, and the California Department of Education would like to answer these questions in this communication.

The purpose of the California Healthy Youth Act (California Education Code [EC] sections 51930–51939) is to provide every student with the knowledge and skills necessary to protect their sexual and reproductive health from unintended pregnancy, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Clarification of the law is summarized below:

  • The law prohibits active consent for any part of comprehensive sexual health education or HIV prevention education. Passive (not active) parent/guardian notification is required for comprehensive sexual health education and HIV prevention education, either at the beginning of the school year or at least 14 days prior to instruction.
  • Comprehensive sexual health and HIV prevention education are both mandated instruction and shall occur once in middle school and once in high school. The EC defines comprehensive sexual health education as “education regarding human development and sexuality, including education on pregnancy, contraception, and STIs” and HIV prevention education as “instruction on the nature of HIV and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), methods of transmission, strategies to reduce the risk of HIV infection, and social and public health issues related to HIV and AIDS.”
  • Abstinence may not be discussed in isolation. The EC requires that instruction and materials include information that abstinence is the only certain way to prevent HIV, other STIs, and unintended pregnancy. However, it also states: “Instruction shall provide information about the value of delaying sexual activity while also providing medically accurate information on other methods of preventing HIV and other STIs and pregnancy.” “Abstinence-only” sex education, which offers abstinence as the only option for preventing STIs and unintended pregnancy, is not permitted in California public schools.
  • All instruction and materials must support and align with the purposes of the California Healthy Youth Act and with each other. Instruction and materials may not be in conflict with or undermine each other or any of the purposes of the law. For example, schools may not use materials that, in promoting abstinence, focus exclusively on the failure rates or perceived disadvantages of condoms or contraception.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that youth ages fifteen to twenty-four make up just over one-quarter of the sexually active population but account for half of the 20 million new STIs that occur in the United States each year. According to the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 32.3 percent of California high school students have ever had sexual intercourse versus the national rate of 41.2 percent. Although California high school students report less sexual intercourse than the nation, these numbers still represent potential poor health outcomes for our students, all of which are preventable through education and skill building. Implementation of the California Healthy Youth Act will provide the necessary health education and skill building to protect our students.

If you have any questions regarding this subject, please contact Sharla E. Smith, Comprehensive Sexual Health Education Consultant, Coordinated School Health and Safety Office, by phone at 916-319-0914 or by e-mail at, or visit the California Department of Education Comprehensive Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Instruction Web page at


Tom Torlakson


Last Reviewed: Thursday, October 03, 2019

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