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Opt-Outs and Sex Ed: What Are the Percentages?

Despite years of controversy over opt-out/opt-in laws that address parents’ role in their children’s attendance during public school sexuality education lessons, little is known about the overall percentage of U.S. parents who actually opt-out their children from these lessons. Even less is known about opt-out/opt-in policies and sexuality education in private schools, which educate approximately 10% of the nation’s youth.[1]

Giving parents the option to remove their children from sexuality education lessons is known as an "opt-out" policy. Most states have opt-out provisions in their state education laws, and require public school districts to send written notification to parents of this option in advance of the date when lessons are taught; the reciprocal responsibility of parents who wish to exercise this option is that they typically must inform the school district in writing that their child is not to attend those lessons.

In contrast, requiring that parents provide written parental consent permitting their children to attend sexuality education lessons is known as an “opt-in policy.” As of Spring 2013, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only three states have an opt-in provision for sexuality education while 35 states and the District of Columbia have opt-out provisions.[2]

Given the limited peer-reviewed published research on national percentages of parental opt-out/opt-in, SIECUS has gathered the best available information, including news sources from various states and school districts.

Below are excerpts from information sources that, taken collectively, suggest an average opt-out rate of under 5% in the relatively few U.S. school districts known to have tracked and reported their data.

Helena, Montana (2013): Under 1%

 “In the two years since the Helena School District adopted its new curriculum, less than 20 parents a year, in a district with 1800 students, opt their kids out of sex education – usually for just a day or two.”[3]

Fairfax, VA (2013): Under 2%

 “Over the past four years, opt-out rates have held steady at under two percent of the total school division population.”[4]

Salt Lake City, Utah (2012): Under 1%

 “Last year in Granite School District, 0.5 percent of junior high students and 0.2 percent of high school students who were enrolled in health classes opted out of sex ed. The numbers include nearly 5,785 students at all but two of the district's 23 secondary schools, which did not respond to a Salt Lake Tribune request for data.”[5] 

Montgomery County, Maryland (2007): 4%

 “Four percent of students opted out of a closely watched sex-education pilot program at six Montgomery County middle and high schools, the critical field test of a new curriculum that has put the school system at the center of a national debate on whether homosexuality should be taught in the classroom.”[6]

California, multiple school districts (2003): 1% to 5%

“A 2003 survey of California school districts…showed that only a small proportion of parents opt out of classes for their 6th–12th-grade children. Seventy percent of districts surveyed reported an opt-out rate of no more than 1%, and 93% of districts reported an opt-out rate of no more than 5%.”[7]

For more state-specific information on opt-in/opt-out policies, see the SIECUS State Profiles for Fiscal Year 2011: http://www.siecus.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Page.viewPage&pageId=1357&parentID=478

 


[1] U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, “Overview,” The Condition of Education 2012, accessed May 13, 2013, http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2013037 .

[2] National Conference of State Legislatures, “State Policies on Sex Education in Schools,” April 26, 2013, accessed May 13, 2013, http://www.ncsl.org/issues-research/health/state-policies-on-sex-education-in-schools.aspx.

[3] Mary Sheey Moe, “Simply Mad about Sex,” Commentary, Montana Public Radio MTPR,   March 13, 2013, accessed May 13, 2013, http://www.mtpr.net/commentaries/1287.

[5] Rosemary Winters, “In Utah's Largest Districts, Very Few Students Opt Out of Sex Ed,” Salt Lake Tribune, March 4, 2012, accessed May 13, 2013, http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/53634106-78/amet-comnietur-consed-deck.html.csp.

[6] Daniel de Vise, “More Than 9 in 10 Attend Sex-Ed Pilot Program,” Washington Post, April 8, 2007, accessed May 13, 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/07/AR2007040700637.html.

[7] Norman A. Constantine, Petra Jerman and Alice X. Huang, “California Parents’ Preferences and Beliefs Regarding School-Based Sex Education Policy,” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, v.39, n.3, September 2007, pp.167-175, accessed May 13, 2013 http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/journals/3916707.html.

  

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