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Gov. JB Pritzker signs bills calling for inclusive sex ed and conversations about sexting

With students across the state returning to classrooms, two new laws require Illinois public schools to reevaluate what is taught when discussing personal health and safety and sexual health education.Gov. JB Pritzker signs bills calling for inclusive sex ed and conversations about sexting

With Gov. JB Pritzker signing Senate Bill 818 and House Bill 24 on Friday, new learning standards require what is taught in classrooms to be inclusive and affirming for all students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

"No student should feel stigmatized or excluded in the classroom," said Sen. Ram Villivalam, D-Chicago, who was the lead sponsor for SB 818, which is also known as the Keeping Youth Safe and Healthy Act. "This legislation establishes guidelines for an inclusive, culturally competent curriculum to keep students safe and healthy."

For public school districts that decide to teach personal health and safety education in kindergarten through fifth grade, and sexual health education for middle and high school students, the Keeping Youth Safe and Healthy Act requires what is taught to include those within the LGBTQ community, with disabilities, youth parents and those who are pregnant, as well as survivors of interpersonal and sexual violence.

"In Carbondale, Springfield, Naperville, and more communities across the state, LGBTQ youth consistently told us their health care needs, their relationships, and their identities must be included and affirmed in public school instruction about personal health and safety education and sexual health education," Equality Illinois CEO Brian Johnson said. "This law advances Illinois' values of inclusion and the freedom to build our best lives without burden or discrimination."

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School districts do not have to adopt the new standards unless they are providing personal health and safety education and sex ed. Even in districts that decide to provide education on the topics, which requires them to incorporate the new learning standards, parents still have the choice to opt out of having a child participate.

For students who do take part, course material and age-appropriate instruction will include concepts like consent, while helping students to develop self-advocacy skills to aid them in having conversations with peers and the adults who help to care for them.

"Thanks to the Keeping Youth Safe and Healthy bill, Illinois schools will now be equipped to take an active role in preventing bullying, harassment, abuse, sexual violence, and interpersonal violence, which helps ensure all Illinois students can thrive," Planned Parenthood Illinois Action President and CEO Jennifer Welch said. "And students will learn about healthy relationships and the experiences and needs of all students, including the LGBTQ+ community and those with disabilities, which promotes acceptance and understanding."

Working with parents, sexual health and violence prevention experts, health care providers, education advocates and others, the Illinois State Board of Education will develop and adopt the new voluntary learning standards, making them available online by Aug. 1, 2022. However, SB 818 takes effect immediately.

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Still, there are many who continue to be vocal in their opposition to the Keeping Youth Safe and Healthy Act including Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, who is among those running for governor.

"As your next Governor, I'll work to remove this legislation and restore parental rights, and common sense in Springfield," said Bailey in a Facebook post in response to SB 818 becoming law. "We can and we will improve education across Illinois through local control and investments in classroom results, not woke policies and political agendas."

HB 24, which also has an immediate effective date, requires classes providing sex education to include an age-appropriate discussion regarding sexting.

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"Technology has grown a lot in the last decade, and our education needs to adapt as well," said Sen. Steve Stadelman, D-Rockford, who sponsored the bill. "This new law requires those schools that teach sex education to include a lesson on sexting, so students can learn about the real-life consequences of the virtual act."

Contact Natalie Pierre at npierre@gannett.com or on Twitter @NataliePierre_.

Under the new law, discussions will include information on the possible consequences of sharing sexually explicit or suggestive content, the importance of internet safety and the identification of situations in which bullying or harassment may result as a consequence of sexting, among other things.

"Modernizing our sex education standards will help keep our children safe and ensure important lessons like consent and internet safety are taught in classrooms," Pritzker said. "By working together, we'll continue to strengthen our education system and deliver the bright future our kids deserve."