Landmark Survey Finds Majority of California's Schools in Violation of Sex Education Laws

September 3, 2003 12:00 am

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Eleven Different Laws in a 35-Year Period Cause Confusion; ACLU Supports Proposed Bill to Consolidate Laws


SACRAMENTO – The first statewide survey of sex education in California’s public schools in almost a decade reveals that 85 percent of schools violate one or more laws governing this subject, in part because many teachers and administrators find state laws governing sex education confusing and inconsistent.. The survey also shows that parents and schools overwhelmingly support sex education.

A report on the survey findings, Sex Education in California Public Schools: Are Students Learning What They Need To Know? by researcher Phyllida Burlingame was issued today by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.

“This survey shows that we need to reform California’s confusing maze of sex education laws, currently embedded in 1l separate statutes, to ensure that young people receive comprehensive, medically accurate, scientifically current information,” said attorney Margaret Crosby of the ACLU of Northern California.

The statewide survey probed what California schools are teaching in sex education and HIV/AIDS prevention classes in grades 6-12, whether teachers receive adequate training, and how well schools understand and obey the laws.

Specific findings include:

  • Nearly all middle and high schools surveyed teach HIV/AIDS prevention and sex education to their students. Ninety-four percent teach HIV/AIDS prevention education, as required by law. An even larger number, 96 percent, teach sex education, which is voluntary.
  • Confusion over the laws governing sex education leads schools to violate the California Education Code in many ways. Violations include: omitting required topics within the HIV/AIDS prevention curriculum (48 percent); failing to require training for HIV/AIDS prevention teachers (58 percent); following improper parental notification procedures (39 percent); and failing to provide instruction on HIV/AIDS prevention in the required grades (13 percent).
  • The vast majority of parents want their children to receive sex education. In 70 percent of the schools surveyed, fewer than one percent of parents chose to remove their children from sex education classes.

The report’s author, Burlingame, said that public schools in California recognize the importance of providing sex education, “but a majority are confused by the laws and end up providing inadequate instruction that neither meets the needs of California’s students nor the requirements of the Education Code.”

In response to the current confusion surrounding the sex education laws, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California are sponsoring a bill to replace 11 separate laws, passed over 35 years, with a single, uniform statute governing sex education and HIV/AIDS prevention education.

The proposed bill (SB 71), authored by Senator Sheila Kuehl, updates the current laws and eliminates contradictions by establishing a new definition of comprehensive sexual health education, setting age-appropriate grade levels for required topics, creating a new uniform parental consent policy, and ensuring that instruction is age-appropriate, scientifically current, and bias-free. The bill continues to mandate HIV/AIDS prevention education and to give schools discretion as to whether to teach sex education.

The Assembly will likely hold a final vote on SB 71 this week; the Senate passed it in June. Education experts, including the California Teachers Association, the California School Boards Association, California School Nurses Association and the California Association of School Administrators, support SB 71.

“This report underscores the need to clarify current sex education guidelines,” Senator Kuehl said. “Students need this instruction and parents are overwhelmingly supportive of comprehensive sex education in the classroom. We owe it to parents, students and educators to provide coherent sex education guidelines that ensure students receive the information they need to maintain their safety and health.”

The report includes recommendations for policymakers, educators, community members and parents to improve sex education in California public schools and to ensure that students are receiving valuable, accurate and age-appropriate information that will help protect their health.

The survey captured information from 153 unified (K-12) school districts, both urban and rural, representing 47 percent of the unified districts in California.

An executive summary of the report is online at

The full report is online at

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