SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – After heated debate on the floor Thursday night, Illinois senators approved a proposal that could update personal health and sex education courses to make them more comprehensive and inclusive for students.
The bill addresses age and developmentally appropriate content for health courses. Students in Kindergarten through fifth grade would learn about consent, personal safety, and boundaries with others. The curriculum would address puberty and healthy relationships in third through fifth grade.
Meanwhile, more in-depth discussions about sexual health and relationships would occur between sixth grade and senior year.
“In recent years, the news has been filled with reporting on child sex abuse scandals, sexual harassment in the workplace, sexual assault on college campuses, and bullying of LGBTQ students and people of color,” said Sponsor Ram Villivalam (D-Chicago). “Our youth see this coverage.”
Still, Republicans feel the legislation crosses the line for what students should or should not learn in school.
“Here we are dealing with absolute nonsense of putting perversion into our schools,” said Sen. Darren Bailey (R-Xenia). “Yeah, that’s what it is. It’s perversion.”
Democrats pushing for the measure quickly hit back against the conservative candidate for governor. Sen. Celina Villanueva taught sexual education for years before taking office. She called Bailey’s comments “Trumpian” talking points.
“At no point is it saying that a high schooler is gonna get the same education as a second grader. They don’t even get the same mathematical education,” Villanueva explained. “You can keep your perversion and we’ll push for actual education of our students.”
Unlike previous versions of the sex education bills, school districts will have the opportunity to opt-out of teaching the courses. That’s similar to the decision parents or guardians have now when students reach the age for sex education courses.
Simmons to Bailey: “Lead by example”
Sen. Mike Simmons (D-Chicago), a freshman lawmaker and openly gay Black man, also criticized Bailey’s comments on the floor.
“This is the Senate for the state of Illinois,” Simmons said. “I expect a certain degree of decorum and respect that we all would afford each other – I certainly intend to lead by example. I find the word perversion to be deeply offensive and would ask that it be stricken from the record.”
Sen. Neil Anderson (R-Moline) claimed none of the senators have a problem with “medically-accurate” information being taught in schools. He referenced anatomy and physiology as examples of good courses for students in Illinois. However, he felt the good intent behind the Democratic proposal served as a “fig leaf for a lot of bad things.”
“If you think that it is okay for a teacher in a public school to teach fourth and fifth graders what anal sex, oral sex, and dental dams are, then you should vote for this bill,” Anderson said. “If you think that maybe, just maybe, that goes outside of age-appropriateness, and that maybe that should be something that if you as a parent decide to teach your kid, then by all means, do it.”
However, the bill wouldn’t allow for sex education until sixth grade.
Keeping youth safe and healthy
Villivalam noted that standards for the courses could come from input from youth, parents, sexual health and violence prevention experts, and health care providers among others. Schools would also retain local control with the ability to decide the curriculum and other learning materials.
“I’m more than happy to have healthy discussion,” Villivalam said. “I understand that we’re all passionately advocating for our districts. Some of us want to make political speeches. At the end of the day, this is about keeping our youth safe and healthy with age and developmentally accurate and medically accurate information.”
The proposal passed on a partisan 37-18 vote. It now heads to the House for consideration.