NASW Virginia Co-signs Statement on the Need for Better Sex Education (“Family Life”) in Response to “Distressing” Education Department Report

The Virginia Department of Education report released Friday, January 14 illuminates the distressing state of Virginia’s sex education (referred to in the Commonwealth as “Family Life Education”).

The Constitution of Virginia provides that every student is entitled to a high-quality public education, and this is an area where the Commonwealth is catastrophically failing its children.

In response to the report, Dusty Sabourin, the parent of an elementary student in Chesterfield County, said, “Regardless of zip code or identity, every student deserves access to the same comprehensive, medically accurate, and honest information about their own health. The fact that so many of Virginia’s students like mine are failing to receive even basic information that public health professionals consider to be essential is shameful and inexcusable.”

While 96% of Virginia’s public school students receive instruction in Family Life Education, the quality of that instruction ranges wildly across Virginia’s 132 localities, with 19 school districts failing to provide any instruction. Within the 113 school districts that do provide some form of Family Life Education, nearly one-third fail to provide instruction at the high school or elementary school level, and over a quarter fail to provide instruction at the middle school level.

A mere 42% of districts discuss sexual orientation, and an abysmal 36% of districts discuss gender identity. The Commonwealth has failed to establish a statewide standard for evaluating the medical accuracy of local curricula, and only 24% of districts evaluate the effectiveness of their Family Life Education programs. Further, there is no standard regarding who teaches Family Life Education courses, and there are few opportunities for instructors to pursue professional development opportunities.

Quality sex education has been proven to protect children against abuse and harassment, help them develop healthy relationship skills, and improve their emotional well-being, media literacy, and academic performance. With so much at stake, and at a time when so many children are struggling, the failure of Virginia schools to deliver this essential education is a crisis that threatens the moral and economic future of our Commonwealth, as well as the safety and well-being of our children.

According to Pablo Moulden, director of the Virginia Coalition for Sex Ed Reform, “This report shows what parents and students across the Commonwealth have known and experienced for decades: The Family Life Education system in Virginia is broken and is failing to provide our children with even basic information that they need to communicate effectively, protect themselves, and make informed decisions.”

Legislation has already been introduced in this General Assembly session that would further inhibit access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information and openly discriminate against Virginia’s transgender students. It is abhorrent and morally reprehensible that Gov. Glenn Youngkin and Republicans in the General Assembly would try to take this weakened and incomplete educational system and dismantle it entirely.

Virginia’s students deserve better. We call on the leaders of the Virginia General Assembly’s education committees—Sens. Louise Lucas and Ghazala Hashmi, and Delegates Glenn Davis and John Avoli--to join with us to ensure that Family Life Education delivers what young people need--fact-based lessons taught by trained experts on communication, boundary-setting, respecting each other across differences, building healthy relationships, and making moral and informed decisions that will last their whole lives.

Together, we can begin to make our schools a place where every child in Virginia of every gender, every race, and every sexual orientation can learn, grow, and truly shine.

Endorsed by the following Coalition Members:

Pride Liberation Project Pro-Choice Virginia

Advocates for Youth Virginia Young Democrats

Generation Ratify VA Safe Space NOVA

Virginia Council on LGBTQ+ GLSEN Richmond

Virginia American Atheists Center for Biological Diversity

University of Richmond College Democrats Secular Democrats