BOSTON (State House News Service/WWLP) – Massachusetts students will receive sex and health education that is intended to be more inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community and teach about bodily autonomy, mental and emotional health, dating safety, nutrition, sexually transmitted infections and consent, after a board of education vote Tuesday.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education unanimously voted during its Tuesday meeting to adopt a new set of curriculum frameworks on health education — the first time the guidelines have been updated since 1999.

“It’s a really wonderful step forward for sex education in Massachusetts,” said Sara Biette, a Sexual Reproductive Health Outreach Coordinator at Tapestry. “One of the biggest sentiments that I hear from adults is that they wish they had the information and knowledge sooner about everything that we’re talking about, about gender and sexuality, about consent.”

The new standards include different guidelines for four age groups: pre-K through second grade, grades 3-5, grades 6-8, and grades 9-12. For the youngest students, the standards have to do with learning about healthy eating; managing stress and demonstrating self-control; practicing hygienic habits such as washing hands; learning how to respond in emergency situations; discussing gender-role stereotypes and treating all people with respect; defining bullying; explaining why taking medicine as directed is important, among other goals.

As children get older, the guidelines include education about sex, healthy romantic relationships, gender identity, substance use and misuse, how to identify and stay safe from human and sex trafficking, and more specific, science-based methods for physical education.

“I think when you’re learning it in a school, with professionals who know exactly what they’re talking about, it’s better to learn it that way than these kids to go online and learn it their selves and maybe not get the facts right,” said Nick Karas of West Springfield.

The board’s vote comes after a summer-long public comment period, during which the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education received nearly 5,400 comments via email, mail and online survey responses.

These new frameworks are guidelines and not specific curriculum for school districts. Schools have the freedom to opt-in to teaching sex and health education. You can read the full document of new standards below.

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Kaelee Collins is a reporter who has been a part of the 22News team since 2022. Follow Kaelee on X @kaelee_collins and view her bio to see more of her work.