General Articles

Mississippi’s New Sex Ed Law Mandates Schools to Teach Failed and Ineffective Approach

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour signed HB 999 on March 16, 2011; the legislation codifies into law a requirement for all Mississippi public schools to teach an abstinence-only-until-marriage approach to sex education under the guise of giving schools the choice to implement “abstinence-only” or “abstinence-plus” instruction. While the original bill included language that would have given schools the authority to provide more comprehensive health information to students, these provisions were stripped from the bill by the State House of Representatives. The State Senate version of the bill went a step further, limiting young people’s access to sex-related information by including an opt-in policy for parental consent. The final version of the bill, now signed into law, does nothing to improve sexuality instruction provided in Mississippi schools but increases the likelihood that students will be subjected to inaccurate and ineffective instruction.
The new law requires each school district to implement either an “abstinence-only” or “abstinence-plus” curriculum by the start of the 2012–2013 school year. Under the law, “abstinence-only” instruction must promote abstinence only until marriage, including, among other notions, that “a mutually faithful, monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the only appropriate setting for sexual intercourse;” and it must also highlight “the likely negative psychological and physical effects of not abstaining [from sexual activity].” The law defines “abstinence-plus” education as consisting of all the components included under “abstinence-only” instruction while also allowing the inclusion of additional topics approved by the state’s department of education, such as contraceptive methods, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and STD/HIV prevention.[1]
Introduced for each of the past three years, Mississippi’s dual-option sex education bill consistently gained traction with legislators and passed the House each year, despite dying repeatedly in the Senate subcommittees on education and public health and welfare. The dual-option legislation also gained headway over other proposed measures for sex education, including a bill introduced both this year and last year by Representatives Alyce Clarke (D–69th District) and Scott Mayo (D–25th District) to implement a comprehensive sex education pilot program in schools. That bill has never made it out of committee.
New language added to this year’s original draft of the dual option bill (HB 999) would have established increased guidelines for sex education. The language would have required “abstinence-plus” education to provide “instruction and demonstrations on the application and use of condoms or other contraceptives.” The bill was amended in the House to require that broader education topics included under “abstinence-plus” instruction not be limited to instruction and demonstrations on the use of condoms and contraceptives.[2]
Another provision would have required both “abstinence-only” and “abstinence-plus” instruction to teach “methods for developing healthy life skills, including setting goals, making responsible decisions, [and] communicating and managing stress” as well as “the impact of media and one’s peers on thoughts, feelings and behaviors related to sexuality.” Additional language would have also required the Mississippi State Department of Health to apply for federal Personal Responsibility Education Program funds. All of these measures were stripped from the bill by the House Committee on Education, along with the definitions for “medically accurate” and “age-appropriate.” The bill passed the House by a vote of 62–56.[3]
Amendments made in the Senate served to further slash positive provisions from the bill and narrow the distinction between “abstinence-plus” and “abstinence-only” education. The Senate version went so far as to prohibit “abstinence-plus” education from providing instruction and demonstrations on the use of condoms.[4] This version also added language requiring “abstinence-plus” education to include a “factual presentation of the risks and failure rates” of contraceptives, which was a provision already included under “abstinence-only” education, and therefore already applicable to all “abstinence-plus” instruction. The legislation does not include any requirement for instruction to discuss the potential health benefits and rates of effectiveness for condoms and other contraceptive methods.[6]
Perhaps worst of all, the Senate version amended the state’s parental consent policy for sex education, doing away with Mississippi’s opt-out policy and instead instituting an opt-in policy. Parents and guardians must now provide written permission—that is, must “opt in”—to allow their child to receive sex-related instruction. The amendment is detrimental to the bill’s purported intention of increasing sex-related instruction provided in public schools, and in reality will further inhibit young people from accessing any information about sexual health in the classroom. “We’re excluding children with unengaged parents, who are the exact children we should be reaching,” said Rachel Hicks, executive director of Mississippi First, a nonprofit organization focused on education policy reform.[7] The revised bill passed the Senate unanimously. Within just two business days the House approved the Senate version of the bill and it was sent to Governor Barbour for signature.
The bill codifies into law a more extreme and conservative sex education policy than what previously existed in Mississippi. Moreover, rather than facilitating the ability for school districts to implement sex education, the legislation imposes greater administrative red tape that will only impede schools’ efforts to provide any type of instruction at all. Along with the opt-in policy, the new law will also require students to be separated by gender at all times when instruction is given.[8]

[1]Mississippi Legislature, 2011 Regular Session, House Bill 999, final version of bill as sent to the governor, introduced 17 January 2011, accessed 18 March 2011, <>.

[2]Mississippi Legislature, 2011 Regular Session, House Bill 999, amended version of bill as passed the House, introduced 17 January 2011, accessed 18 March 2011, <>.


[4]Mississippi Legislature, 2011 Regular Session, House Bill 999, Senate amendments to bill, introduced 17 January 2011, accessed 18 March 2011, <>.

[5]Adam Lynch, “Mandatory Sex Ed: Almost There,” Jackson Free Press, 14 March 2011, accessed 18 March 2011, <>.

[6]Mississippi Legislature, 2011 Regular Session, House Bill 999, Senate amendments to bill.

[7]Lynch, “Mandatory Sex Ed: Almost There.”

[8]Mississippi Legislature, 2011 Regular Session, House Bill 999, final version of bill as sent to the governor, introduced 17 January 2011, accessed 18 March 2011, <>.