General Articles

No Clear Definition of Family Life Education in Tennessee

The Offices of Research and Education Accountability (OREA) in Tennessee recently issued a report on family life education in the state that concluded that Local Education Agencies (LEAs) need more guidance on what they should be teaching young people about preventing pregnancy and avoiding sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).1  

The report, sent to the Tennessee state legislature on April 3rd from John G. Morgan, comptroller of the treasury, provides an overview of family life programs in Tennessee, including curriculum content, the extent of participation in various school districts, and comparisons to programs in other states.  The OREA conducted an on-line survey of all school districts; reviewed state statutes, policies, and curricula standards; and interviewed state health and education officials, sexuality educators, and abstinence-only-until-marriage providers.

Specifically, the report concluded that LEAs are required by the state to implement and develop family life education programs, but receive minimal support and guidance from state agencies.  It also concluded that instructors, materials, and teaching methods vary widely from district to district and that most LEAs have been unable to determine whether or not their programs are effective.

The authors of the report recommend that the General Assembly, in cooperation with the Department of Education and State Board of Education, more clearly define the goals of family life education programs, require LEAs to use materials and information that are medically and scientifically accurate, and consider providing funding to augment training programs for health educators.  They also recommend that The State Board of Education, in conjunction with the Department of Education, develop goals, policies and procedures for family life education to guide LEAs in evaluation, supervision, and implementation of family life components of health education.

OREA recommends that LEAs evaluate the effectiveness of their programs, with proper guidance from the state, and ensure that outside instructors are qualified.  It also asked that local school boards be aware of Tennessee law regarding family life curriculum and take measures to ensure that the law is being followed at the local level.  Tennessee Code forbids the teaching of any sexuality education class unless it has been approved by the State Board of Education and the local school board, and is taught by instructors deemed to be qualified by the local school board. Any course in sexuality education must “include presentations encouraging abstinence from sexual intercourse during the teen and pre-teen years.” Violation of this rule is considered a Class C misdemeanor.2 Tennessee law also states that whenever a program is developed at the local level the “board shall consider such programs and materials as Sex Respect, Teen-Aid, and the 3-R Project of the South Carolina departments of education and health.”3

SIECUS developed the Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education: Kindergarten-12th Grade to help educators create new sexuality education programs and evaluate already existing curricula. The Guidelines, developed by a national task force of experts in the fields of adolescent development, health care, and education, provide a framework of the key concepts, topics, and messages that all sexuality education programs would ideally include.  State agencies and LEAs, in Tennessee and throughout the United States, can use The Guidelines to assist in the development and evaluation of sexuality education curricula.

To access SIECUS’ Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education:
Kindergarten-12th Grade please visit, http://www.siecus.local/pubs/guidelines/guidelines.pdf


  1. Unless otherwise cited, all of the information in this article comes from Family Life Education in Tennessee (Tennessee: Offices of Research and Education Accountability, 2007).
  2. Tennessee Code Sections 49-6-1005, 49-6-1008, 49-6-1301, 49-6-1302, and 49-6-1303
  3. Ibid.