The bill updating sex education for K-12 students that Governor JB Pritzker signed into law last summer takes effect in the 2022-2023 school year.
But Shawn Walsh, regional superintendent of schools in Will County, said schools aren’t required to join the state of Illinois if they don’t already offer a comprehensive sex-ed curriculum to their students.
Walsh said Illinois, not Will County, provides guidance on the new standards and has “a whole website page devoted to it.”
“So the way the curriculum works is for the General Assembly to pass a bill requiring certain subjects to be taught,” Walsh said. “The Council of State issues directives. Our office is there to ensure that districts meet the standards set for them by law.
Walsh said Illinois sent out a survey to see which districts opted.
“Once those results are out, we’ll know who signed up and who opted out,” Walsh said.
However, students are not required to adhere to the new standards, even if their schools do.
“Parents always have the option to opt out of this program,” Walsh said. “And parents can review the program if the school district agrees.”
Plainfield School District 202 is getting involved because it already offers sex education and Erin’s Law in its curriculum, district spokesman Tom Hernandez said.
Hernandez said Illinois law doesn’t require school districts to teach sex education, just health education, which encompasses sexual health.
“Erin’s Law” requires that “all public schools in every state implement a curriculum focused on the prevention of child sexual abuse that teaches,” according to the Erin’s Law website. Erin Merryn, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, introduced the legislation in her home state of Illinois.
Hernandez said District 202 publishes curriculum guides for middle and high schools on its website, which is being updated, and no new curriculum is needed.
District 202 also sends a letter to parents before teaching Erin’s Law, its human development/puberty unit and sex education, Hernandez said.
“Parents can complete a program objection form if they wish to remove their child from one of these units,” Hernandez said.
Students who withdraw receive an alternate assignment, Hernandez said.
Lincoln-Way High School District 210 also has a comprehensive health and sexuality education curriculum and will continue to use its current curriculum, district spokeswoman Jen Beshansky said.
A “handful” of students often drop out of the sex education unit in their health class, which typically lasts 10 school days, Beshansksy said in an email.
“On the days these students aren’t in class, they attend a study hall,” Beshansky said in an email.
Kristine Schlismann, spokesperson for Joliet Township High School District 204, said students cannot opt out of health class because it is required for graduation. Within that health class, District 204 offers a comprehensive sex education curriculum, she said.
However, parents can opt out of program content, which is not a new procedure at District 204, she said.
“Health educators share curriculum content with parents at the start of each semester and will continue to do so,” Schlismann said in an email.
Therese Rouse, superintendent of Joliet Public Schools District 86, said District 86 offers a comprehensive health education program, not a comprehensive sexual health education program.
So much of District 86’s health education curriculum remains the same for the 2022-23 school year, Rouse said.
“In my reading of the law, we’re still within those limits,” Rouse said.
Students in kindergarten through fifth grade are currently being taught about Erin’s Law through Guardian Angel Community Services, Rouse said. Physical education teachers at schools used to teach Erin’s Law, Rouse said.
“We have contracted with Guardian Angel for some continuity of teaching across the district,” Rouse said.
Students in grades six through eight have health studies units taught by “our qualified health teachers” in accordance with District 86 board policy, Rouse said.
Sixth-graders learn to “take charge” of their health and well-being, including their social health and well-being, Rouse said. Seventh-graders learn about nutrition, physical fitness and “avoid dangerous substances,” Rouse said.
Eighth graders learn about promoting mental and emotional well-being, how to protect physical health and safety, and human sexuality, Rouse said.
District 86 will add an additional puberty curriculum — taught by Candor Health — for fifth graders next spring.
“Parents will be notified in advance,” Rouse said, adding that parents can withdraw their students from health education.
“Most people don’t opt out of Erin’s Law,” Rouse said. “Of course, it’s always possible.”