Step 2

Ensure Policies and Procedures are in Place to Guide and Sustain Sex Education

Results 
  • School district leadership and sex education implementers review and understand existing policies and procedures that govern the teaching of sex education
  • Formal policies are in place that support sex education institutionalization
  • Procedures and regulations articulate the school district’s plan and support for sex education institutionalization

With a clear institutionalization plan in place, it is time to ensure that the school district’s guiding documents align and uphold the sex education institutionalization plan. Both the formal policies, such as those passed by a school board, and the informal processes that guide instruction, are important aspects of sex education institutionalization. Without embedding sex education into guidance documents, there are significant risks to initial buy-in and long-term sustainability. For example, teachers may not feel they have sufficient assurances that they are allowed to teach sex education, or after staff turnover the historical knowledge about how and when to implement sex education may be lost. Establishing district policies and guidelines that mandate and support sex education can have an enduring impact.

Tips

  1. Review school district policy to assess compliance with state law and school district goals.

    Ideally districts have a policy in place that supports, and even mandates, the institutionalization of sex education. First, review existing school district policy to determine if the policy needs updating to comply with state-level policy or to better align with the school district's sex education goals. Questions to ask include: “Does it comply with state policy or regulations?” “What content does the policy specify?” “When was the policy last revised?” “Does it mandate or allow for sex education?” “Is there an opt-out policy ?” “Does the policy specify the grade levels in which sex education should be taught?”

  2. Affirm or update school district policy to comply with state law and/or bolster sex education institutionalization.

    After the review and assessment phase, update district policy in favor of sex education, where needed. While 21 states plus Washington D.C. require sex education to be taught, many states have state-level policies that allow, but don’t mandate, sex education. That means there’s an opportunity to require sex education at the school district level. Some states provide little guidance whatsoever, placing greater responsibility on individual districts to determine their policies for sex education in schools. There are opportunities to further strengthen sex education through the policy phase. For example, consider including sex education as a graduation requirement (or a required component of a health education requirement) to position sex education as an important academic component. Graduation requirements are often decided at the state level but it may be possible to provide tailored, localized graduation requirements.

    There may be a strong, model policy to adopt. Using model school district policies that have already been developed and implemented can save time, ensure compliance with state mandates, and make the policy development process less daunting to school districts. For example, in favorable policy environments, statewide associations or departments of education may promulgate model policies, making approval relatively easy and ensuring consistency in sex education policy across districts. 

  3. Develop a strategy for policy adoption.

    If a new or revised policy is needed, be sure to understand the process for policy change and make a plan accordingly. Identify and engage key district and community stakeholders as champions and develop a communication strategy. Ensure that partners are aware of their roles, responsibilities, available resources, and the pathway to policy approval. Involving district superintendents or other key district-level decision makers lends powerful support and brings an important internal perspective to sex education policy adoption. Some school districts may not want to tackle policy change and that might be an indicator of insufficient support for sex education. It is important to demonstrate the link between strong school district policy and long-term institutionalization. Some school districts may not be ready to enhance or create a supportive policy because they want to pilot sex education implementation first. While this might be a strategic path for some districts, it is critical that school district stakeholders understand the long-term sustainability gains that district policies foment.

  4. Determine the key guidance documents and frameworks that inform school district instruction and embed sex education within them.

    School districts have a wide variety of guidance documents and policies that articulate instructional expectations. For example, there might be a “scope and sequence” or pacing guide template that classes such as English or Math use to document how and when instructional units will be taught. Developing these documents with sex education-specific instructional content puts sex education documentation on par with other courses and creates an instructional map to guide sex education teaching that ensures all sex education lesson plans will be covered. Consider embedding sex education within job descriptions to ensure it is seen as a key responsibility for the role (e.g., PE teacher job description; curriculum director job description). It is also important to look to school frameworks. School frameworks include district-level or school-level improvement plans and/or strategic plans as well as state and local educational standards. Sex education must be nested within these frameworks which specify the key priorities for a particular school districts (e.g., school improvement plans) as well as what students should know and be able to do at the end of a grade (e.g., standards). Also consider including provisions for minimum ongoing professional development requirements.

    Establish dedicated time in the school year to incorporate sex education. In order to ensure the sustained provision of sex education, specific time needs to be allocated for it. This way, sex education is not viewed as something that is optional or extra, but rather a planned and required activity built into the academic calendar. For some districts, this may mean including sex education as part of an existing Health or PE class (a common way to integrate sex education) while for others more creativity may be needed.