Massachusetts State Senate Passes Healthy Youth, Gender ID and Student Nutrition Bills

BOSTON (09/23/21) – On Thursday, September 23, 2021, the Massachusetts Senate passed three bills that would provide students with age-appropriate, medically accurate and inclusive sex education; allow a non-binary option other than male or female on birth certificates and drivers licenses; and ensure that more children in Massachusetts have access to nutritious school meals. These bills all provide essential building blocks to ensuring a safe, healthy, inclusive, and resilient Commonwealth.

“I gladly voted for these bills, which reflect the Senate’s commitment to continue supporting the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable residents,” said Senator Cindy F. Friedman, Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “Every student should have access to nutritious school meals and to medically accurate, inclusive sex education curricula. Likewise, every person should be able to claim accurate gender identity information on their drivers’ license. Thank you to the Senate President, the Chair of Ways and Means, and my colleagues in the Senate that advocating so passionately for our children, students, friends, and neighbors.”

Senate Bill 2534, An Act to healthy youth, would ensure that Massachusetts schools electing to provide their students with sex education use age-appropriate and medically accurate curriculum that covers a comprehensive and inclusive range of topics.

Currently, when Massachusetts public schools provide their students with health education that covers sexual activity, there is no way to ensure that students are being taught research-informed and comprehensive curricula. Schools are still able to utilize abstinence-only or abstinence-centered programming, as well as curricula that excludes important information for LGBTQ+ youth and critical lessons on consent. This bill changes this by requiring school districts that offer sex education to follow certain guidelines to ensure students are provided with age-appropriate, medically accurate, and comprehensive information, including: the benefits of delaying sex; effective contraceptive use; prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs); healthy relationship and communication skills; consent; and gender identity and sexual orientation.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education would also be required review and update the Massachusetts Comprehensive Health Curriculum Framework to be consistent with the provisions outlined in this legislation. The most recent Massachusetts Health Curriculum Framework is dated October 10, 1999. To ensure that the framework is periodically updated, DESE would also be required to review the framework at least every ten years. 

This legislation does not require schools to offer sex education and also protects parents’ right to remove their children from all or part of sex education if they choose to do so—an action protected by state law. In addition, it provides districts that teach sex education curriculum with updated guidance on how to notify parents about these programs.

Senate Bill 2282, An Act relative to gender identity on Massachusetts identification, would provide for a non-binary option other than male or female on birth certificates and drivers licenses. The bill also directs the state to begin the process of allowing a non-binary option for all state forms and instances where a gender choice is required.

Under the bill, the gender on birth records could be changed by an adult, an emancipated minor, or the parent or guardian of a minor. The gender designations on a birth record could include “female”, “male” or “X” — which indicates that the person is another gender or an undesignated gender. No documentation beyond a self-attestation is required to make a change. The legislation also enables those who change the gender on their birth certificate to change the name on their birth certificate if they have already gone through the legal name change process. The bill provides three years to change the name on the birth certificate after the gender has been changed, or until the age of 21 for those who changed their gender designation before the age of 18.

Senate Bill 298, An Act to promote student nutrition, would ensure that more children in Massachusetts have access to nutritious school meals. It requires schools and districts where a majority of students are low-income to enroll in federal programs—known as the Community Eligibility Provision and Provision 2—that allow them to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students. In addition to providing universal meals, these programs reduce administrative burdens for schools.

The legislation minimizes families’ meal debt by requiring school districts to maximize federal revenues and directing the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to assist them in doing so. When students do accrue debt, it requires school districts to determine whether they are eligible for free- or reduced-price meals. The legislation also prohibits schools from targeting students who carry meal-related debt with punitive practices such as withholding report cards and transcripts, preventing students from graduating or walking at graduation, barring students from participating in no-fee extracurricular events like field trips, or throwing a child’s hot meal away and replacing it with an inferior meal.

All three bills now go to the House of Representatives for further action.