Opt-In vs. Opt-Out Sexuality Education Policies
Under an opt-in policy, teachers need written permission from a parent (or legal guardian) before a student can attend a sexuality education class. Most states and school districts rely instead on opt-out policies for sexuality education, which automatically enroll all students, but allow parents to remove their children from instruction without penalty. Thirty-five states plus the District of Columbia have opt-out policies; three states have an opt-in policy.
Opt-out policies usually require school districts to send written notification to parents before sexuality education lessons are taught, including information on what is being taught and who will be teaching the class. It is then the responsibility of parents to inform the school district in writing if they do not wish their child to attend those lessons.
Despite years of controversy over opt-out and opt-in laws for sexuality education, little is known about the overall percentage of U.S. parents who actually opt their children out of these lessons. SIECUS has gathered the best available information, which suggests an average opt-out rate of well under 5% in the relatively few school districts known to have tracked and reported their data: California, multiple school districts (1-5%); Fairfax, Virginia (< 2%); Montgomery County, Maryland (4%); and Salt Lake City, Utah (< 1%).
National Conference of State Legislatures, “State Policies on Sex Education in Schools,” July 11, 2014 accessed July 28, 2014, http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/state-policies-on-sex-education-in-schools.aspx.
Constantine, Norman A., 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 July 28, 2014, http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/journals/3916707.html.
Fairfax County, VA, School District, Family Life Education Program Profile 2012–2013, p7, accessed July 28, 2014, http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=%22opt-out%20rates%22%20sex%20ed&source=web&cd=6&ved=0CFEQFjAF&url=http%3A%2F%2Fcommweb.fcps.edu%2Fprogramprofile%2Freport.cfm%3Fprofile%3D89&ei=xUqRUZSVG9Oy0QGAooCoBw&usg=AFQjCNHfhlcrdKYizy6ZgCITZAGSfp-9Gw.
de Vise, Daniel, “More Than 9 in 10 Attend Sex-Ed Pilot Program,” Washington Post, April 8, 2007, accessed July 28, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/07/AR2007040700637.html.
Winters, Rosemary, “In Utah’s largest districts, very few Students opt out of sex ed,” Salt Lake Tribune, March 4, 2012, accessed July 28, 2014, http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/53634106-78/amet-comnietur-consed-deck.html.csp.