History + Timeline
1800s- pamphlets about venereal diseases, overall good hygiene, and the evils of prostitution and masturbation were widely distributed outside of schools.
1913- Chicago attempts to formally introduce sex-ed into their school systems. The Catholic Church helps shut it down. (8)
1914– The American Hygiene Association was founded to teach soldiers about sexual hygiene throughout the war. They would later be involved in creating school curriculums.
1916– Planned Parenthood is founded in New York.
1919– A report from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Children’s Bureau was released that suggested soldiers would have been better off if they had received sex instruction in school. (8)
1920s– resurgence of interest in getting sex-ed into schools.
Between 20-40% of U.S. school systems had programs in social hygiene and sexuality. (8)
1930s– The U.S. Office of Education began to publish materials and train teachers.
1964– The medical director at Planned Parenthood, Mary Calderone, founded the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) in part to challenge the American Social Hygiene Association.
1968– A pamphlet called “Is the School House the Proper Place to Teach Raw Sex?” is widely distributed by Gordon Drake and James Hargis framing sex ed as a way to indoctrinate children into communism. Thus began the scary rhetoric that sex-ed was teaching students to be homosexuals and that teachers were having sex in front of students. (8)
1980s– The AIDS epidemic takes hold. Religious groups use this public health crisis to push their own agenda and convince school board members and legislative officials that abstinence-only sex education was the only way to keep kids “safe.”
1981– President Regan signed the Adolescent Family Life Act (aka the “Chastity Law” –yikes!). This law allowed federal funding to go to abstinence-only programming. And abstinence-only sexuality education (AOSE) and abstinence-only until marriage (AOUM) programming became the norm in the US.
2004: Study is published showing the harms of abstinence-only-until-marriage (AOUM) programs and the importance of investing in comprehensive sexuality education. There are plenty more studies that have been published since reaffirming the same results. (It’s possible there were studies earlier than this, but this was the earliest one we could find. Know of an earlier one? Please get in touch!)
2018: Under the Trump administration, Abstinence-only until marriage (AOUM) is rebranded to be Sexual Risk Avoidance Education (SRAE) (1). More federal funding goes towards pushing these programs.
And now on to Michigan…
2003: the Michigan Board of Education adopts the Policy to Promote Health and Prevent Disease and Pregnancy, which states that “sexuality education programs must be age-appropriate, developmentally and culturally appropriate, medically accurate, and based on effective programming (1).”
2015: The CDC released the 2015 Youth Risky Behaviors Survey, and called for states to move toward more comprehensive sex-ed.
Sexually Mature Aware Responsible Teens (SMART) is no longer taught in Michigan’s East Lansing School District (5).
2017: Forest Hills School District in Grand Rapids ends the abstinence-only curriculum in their district (5).
2018: Michigan Department of Health and Human Services received $1,940,143 in federal Title V SRAE for their 2018 fiscal year (FY). In FY 2018, there were also four SRAE grantees for the state that received a total of $1,752,017 in SRAE grant funds (1):
Michigan Compiled Laws §§ 380.1169–.1170, 380.1506–.1507, and 388.1766–.1766a: All of these laws work together to outline what schools in Michigan can offer if they do offer sex-ed. Topics allowed to be covered include: “sexuality education instruction, which can include information on family planning, family life education, and sexually transmitted disease (STD) prevention (1).”
Tell us more about the sex-ed requirements (or lack there of)
The state of Michigan doesn’t mandate sex-ed, but it does mandate HIV education (parents must be given notice, and can opt their child out) (3). If a school district decides to teach sex-ed anyway, the curriculum is not regulated. This means that there are no requirements for the content to be age-appropriate, medically accurate, culturally appropriate, unbiased, or refrain from promoting religion (3). It also doesn’t have to be sexual orientation inclusive or otherwise LGBT+ friendly (3). What does it have to have? You guessed it, heavy stress on abstinence, and only having sex within the confines of marriage when discussing pregnancy or contracting HIV/AIDS or other STDs (3). In the words of Michigan itself, abstinence must be presented as “a responsible method of preventing unwanted or out-of-wedlock pregnancy and [STDs]” and as “a positive lifestyle for unmarried young people (1).”
Want to learn about abortion or contraception? Not on Michigan’s watch. As quoted by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the US (SIECUS) in their 2018 state profile, abortion in Michigan “shall not be considered a method of family planning, nor shall abortion be taught as a method of reproductive health (1).” And forget about getting an abortion referral. Along with “family planning drugs [and] devices,” school officials and school board members are forbidden from giving these to students, and the consequences are pretty serious (corrective action and forfeiting aid) (1).
If that wasn’t enough, an advisory board made up of “parents, students, educators, clergy, and health professionals” is formed to “review all sexuality education materials and curricula (1).” On top of that, every school district has an education program supervisor that has to be approved by the state. These figures help regulate the local school board approved education that cannot change unless the board is notified two hearings in advance (1). If only as much effort went into comprehensive sex education itself…
As we said above, the state of Michigan doesn’t mandate or regulate sex ed. If a school decides it wants to go above and beyond (not too hard with standards like these), sex-ed has to be an elective taught by a health teacher, and it can’t be needed to graduate high school (1). HIV education can be taught by a health professional or just your friendly neighborhood teacher who has a bit of “training” (1). That’s the same thing right? A slight sigh of relief can be released knowing that, if nothing else, “all instruction in reproductive health must be taught by qualified instructors and ‘supervised by a registered physician, a registered nurse, or other person certified by the state board as qualified (1).’” Now, who the state actually deems worthy in reality is unbeknownst to us.
So after all this, we’re good to go right? Not exactly. Every parent must be notified that any sexual education is occurring and are told for sex and HIV education (4):
- The content of the instruction
- Their right to review materials in advance
- Their right to observe instruction
- Their right to excuse their child without penalty
Just for sex-ed, parents/guardians can file a “continuing written notice” which will take the child out of all sex-ed courses unless a parent writes a new authorization note for enrollment (4).
We should once again remind you that sex-ed is not mandated in Michigan. If you were in charge of a school district, would you go through all of this work if you legally didn’t have to? Even for those that do, consistency and ability to gauge the depth of any given curriculum’s true comprehensiveness are nonexistent.
What the kids are actually learning
Now that’s all great, but most of us know that the map is not the territory. What are the kids in the Mitten State actually learning?
Let’s start off with some great news. Though regulated sex-ed isn’t a state law (yet? Fingers crossed), according to SIECUS, the majority of Michigan public schools as of 2018 are following the Michigan Model for Health’s (MMH) guidelines. MMH used to be the Michigan Model for Comprehensive School Health Education, and runs on “research-based curricula, including curricula on HIV/AIDS prevention (1).” The Michigan Board of Education also adopted the Policy to Promote Health and Prevent Disease and Pregnancy in 2003, which “states that sexuality education programs must be age-appropriate, developmentally and culturally appropriate, medically accurate, and based on effective programming (1).” There’s also a set of standards used to “ensure that there are a uniform set of content expectations” in the health education of grades K-8 (1).
Now, in our timeline above, we can see that the cat was let out of the sex-ed bag in 2015 when the CDC reiterated what a lot of research was saying: abstinence-only education does not work. Many states reacted in a scramble to abide by the CDC’s “suggestion” of having a more comprehensive education. Michigan may have been dragging its heels a bit because they were (and in some cases still are) using groups like abstinence focused (and suspiciously religious) Sexually Mature Aware Responsible Teens (SMART) to teach students sex-ed. Ultimately, former Northwestern professor and mom of a then ninth-grader, Alice Dreger helped seal the comprehensive deal in the East Lansing School District though when she used her right to review sex-ed content to sit in on her ninth-grade son’s sex-ed workshop (5). The outcome was, in a word: bad.
Dredger told Michigan Daily in a 2017 article that part of the class involved instructors assigning students numbers, then rolling dice to “simulate the chance of condom failure and unintended pregnancy.” They rolled the dice eight times, and Dredger said the instructors told students “every time your number comes up, in pretend your condom failed and you get a paper baby (5).’”
Oh, did we mention she live-tweeted it? Because she live-tweeted it.
Turns out all publicity isn’t good publicity. A student from East Langsing HS told the Michigan Daily that Dredger’s tweets provided the pressure needed to get SMART out of Michigan schools (5). And thankfully so. Students described the curriculum as “pseudo- and un-scientific information” that created “an atmosphere of fear and confusion around sex (5).”
SMART may be gone, but groups like Crossroads Care Center sell a similar idea as SMART but in a different package and still operated statewide. According to Crossroads’ 2019 newsletter, their Sexual Health, and Relationship Education (SHARE) program “arms” students with “the truth” needed to make “healthy sexual choices (7).” In this case, the “truth” is that “if [students] wait to have sex until [they] are in a lifetime, committed, faithful, monogamous relationship, [they] will not be at risk for an STD.” SHARE believes that “marriage is the God-ordained relationship for sex (7).”
SHARE Director Evelyn Van Sloten told Michigan Daily in 2017 that the SHARE program “differs from other programs in that the instructors are certified by a sexual risk-avoidance program, which takes a more holistic approach to sex education (6).” But, if you recall, SRAE programs are the rebranded version of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. You know, the ones that the CDC said needed an update.
In 2018, SHARE taught “8,000 middle and high school students the consequences of sexual activity in over 50 local public schools [in Michigan].” These schools include elementary, middle, and high schools (7).
Now, not every district uses SRAE programs. For instance, Forest Hills School District in Grand Rapids decided to no longer teach abstinence-only education due to it being “unrealistic and lacking (6).” However, in the end, this is the downside of unregulated sex-ed. Some students are receiving SRAE programming, some are receiving CSE programming, and some aren’t receiving any programming. This needs to change.
Any interesting programs/initiatives/legislation in the works or currently running?
The following bills are in the works in Michigan:
HB 1403/ SB 512 This bill is called the “yes means yes” bill because it would require that consent, REAL consent, be taught in Michigan sex-ed. Students would learn that for consent to be given in sexual activities, both partners have to give affirmative consent, which will be further defined in the curriculum. Status: House Version: Pending; Senate Version: Pending (2). (as of Dec. 2019)
HB 4859/SB 467 this bill wants us to stop asking “what gives, Michigan?” HB 4859/SB 467 provides for “age-appropriate, medically accurate, and objective sexuality” education in public schools. So it’s not mistaken, this bills specifies that factual information includes “medical, psychiatric, psychological, empirical, and statistical statements (2).” Status: House Version: Pending; Senate Version: Pending. (as of Dec 2019)
Written by: Alex Shea
Edited by: Teri Bradford
Have info to add? Please get in touch!
(1) “PDF,” September 25, 2003.
(2) “Sex and HIV Education.” Guttmacher Institute, December 3, 2019. https://www.guttmacher.org/state-policy/explore/sex-and-hiv-education.
(3) “Michigan’s Sex Education Laws Summary. PDF,” September 14, 2007.
(4) Blackman, Kate, and Samantha Scotti. State Policies on Sex Education in Schools. Accessed December 13, 2019. https://www.ncsl.org/research/health/state-policies-on-sex-education-in-schools.aspx.
(5) Meghan Maury and Taissa Morimoto (Eds.), Guide to Implementing Queer- and Trans-Inclusive Sex Education in Michigan, National LGBTQ Task Force, 2019.
(6) “Yes Means Yes: Affirmative Consent to Sex Would Be Taught in Schools.” Detroit Free Press. Detroit Free Press, March 25, 2018. https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2018/03/25/yes-means-yes-affirmative-consent-michigan-house-bill/453937002/.
(7) Rodler, Liza. “Sex Education in New Haven: The Case of the Michigan Model for Health. PDF,” May 2017.
(8) Cornblatt, Johannah. “A Brief History of Sex Ed in America.” Newsweek, March 13, 2010. https://www.newsweek.com/brief-history-sex-ed-america-81001.