California Healthy Youth Act
The California Healthy Youth Act (CHYA) is one of the most progressive and forward thinking laws regarding sexuality education and our youth in the United States. The law requires school districts, juvenile justice facilities, foster care youth, as well as youth who are homeschooled, throughout the state of California be provided with comprehensive sexual health education in both middle school and high school. It is not a high school graduation requirement, but the California Department of Education would like to make it one! CHYA was first enacted in January of 2016 and was updated to be even more inclusive in 2018. The law requires all districts who receive public funding from the state of California to provide comprehensive sexual health education, which includes information about HIV prevention, contraception, gender and gender identity, affirmative consent and information on healthy relationships.
While the unintended pregnancy rates among youth have decreased dramatically in California and the U.S. overall, there still remains a higher incidence than we would like. There also remains a higher than average STI infection rate that has risen in recent years. These rising numbers of STIs, as well as continued unintended pregnancies highlights that our youth need this vital sexual and reproductive health information more than ever. CHYA was created in 2016 to educate students to protect their sexual and reproductive health from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections and from unintended pregnancy, along with knowledge and skills for healthy attitudes on adolescent growth and development, body image,gender, sexual orientation, relationships, marriage and family.
There is a terrific framework that provides guidance for teachers and administrators on how to teach California’s Health Education Content Standards. Health education, student success in school and a successful future for our communities are definitely linked: Healthy youth make better students and better students become healthy, successful adults who are productive members of our communities. The framework covers six content areas of health education: 1) nutrition and physical activity; 2) growth, development, and sexual health; 3) injury prevention and safety; 4) alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs; 5) mental, emotional, and social health; and 6) personal and community health. The framework helps provide learning environments free from harassment and recommends that lessons include teaching about sexual relations, sexual orientation and gender. California firmly believes that dispelling myths, breaking down stereotypes and linking students to resources can help prevent bullying, self-harm, and feelings of hopelessness.
As a health educator who works in California public and private schools I believe that CHYA is a wonderful standard to adhere to when thinking of teaching sexual and reproductive health to young people. Some important questions that I have been asked when discussing CHYA and its requirements are below. The answers are from the California Department of Education.
Is teaching comprehensive sexual health education and HIV prevention required?
Yes. The state legislation, AB 329, requires that students in grades seven through 12 receive comprehensive sexual health education and HIV prevention at least once in middle school and once in high school. Districts under locally elected leadership are tasked with selecting the evidence-based curriculum and instructional resources (including textbooks).
Can parents opt out of sex education lessons?
Yes (but why would you?). Parents can opt their children out of comprehensive sex education. School districts are required to notify parents/guardians a minimum of 14 days prior to the first day of comprehensive sexual health instruction. To opt-out, parents/guardians must request in writing that their child not participate in the instruction. One cannot call the school and have the administration pull their child out of class with a verbal request.
Can parents opt out of instruction or materials that discuss gender, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation?
Parents or guardians can excuse their children from lessons about comprehensive sexual health and HIV prevention education, as well as research on student health behaviors and risks. However, as stated, the CHYA opt-out does not apply to instruction or materials outside the context of comprehensive sexual health education, including those that reference gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, discrimination, bullying, relationsihips or family (e.g. social studies lesson on U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in favor of same-sex marriage).