State Profiles

Arkansas’ Sex Education Snapshot

Advocates have worked diligently to advance sex education in Arkansas, most recently cumulating in the introduction of Senate Bill 304. Known as the Arkansas Healthy Lifestyle Education Act, the bill sought to require curriculum to include age-appropriate instruction on both abstinence and contraceptives to prevent unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, as well as establish an “opt-out” policy for parents to remove their children from sex education instruction. Organizations including Family Council actively worked against Senate Bill 304, and Representative Mark Lowrey attempted to amend the bill to prohibit educators from Planned Parenthood from teaching curriculum in schools. While Senate Bill 304 ultimately failed, sex education advocates were previously successful in passing a 2015 measure that requires schools to provide instruction on dating violence.

While recent efforts to advance sex education have been unsuccessful, legislators passed a slew of 2019 anti-abortion bills (House Bill 1439, Senate Bill 2, Senate Bill 149) to restrict access to abortion care and, ultimately, ban it altogether. Affirming abortion as a valid outcome of pregnancy is a critical topic for inclusion within comprehensive sex education programs. Limiting access to abortion further inhibits the ability of young people to make informed decisions about their health and future. Arkansas statute does not require curriculum to include instruction on pregnancy outcomes if sex education is taught in schools.

Since Arkansas schools are not required to provide sex education to students, school districts are left to decide what type of sex education–if any at all–they provide to youth. Mandating local control over sex education presents unique challenges that have resulted in a glaring disparity regarding the quality of sex education that students receive. Such discretion allows for the implementation of policies and curriculum that stigmatize marginalized youth, such as students of color and LGBTQ youth, and presents further challenges in ensuring that low income districts have access to the resources needed to implement comprehensive sex education.

Nearly 85 percent of public school districts reported teaching some form of abstinence, and 24 districts reported not teaching sex education at all in 2017. In Phillips County alone, only about half of the county’s educators reported teaching sex education. Students report receiving instruction that is primarily focused on abstinence and includes the use of scare tactics, intended to frighten and shame students into avoiding sexual activity.

GLSEN’s 2017 National School Climate Survey found that almost 90 percent of LGBTQ students in Arkansas reported regularly hearing homophobic remarks, and nearly 80 percent of students reported being verbally harassed based on their sexual orientation. 56 percent of students reported being harassed based on their gender expression. These devastating rates demonstrate the critical need for advanced sex education curriculum that includes culturally responsive instruction related to sexual orientation and gender identity, along with bullying and harassment.

To address these barriers, Planned Parenthood Great Plains offers sex education in schools and community organizations and actively works to block restrictive legislation. Right now, advocates can take action to ensure young people in their community have access to quality sex education. After contacting their local school board, advocates can determine what topics are missing from sex education instruction, such as instruction on consent, sexual orientation and gender identity, and contraceptives. They can then vocalize the important need for advancing sex education requirements in their community. Further, advocates can contact their representatives to discuss the critical need for advancing requirements and increasing funding for schools to implement quality sex education. Advocates are encouraged to use the SIECUS Community Action Toolkit to guide local efforts.

State Sex Education Policies and Requirements at a Glance

  • Arkansas schools are not required to teach sex education or instruction on HIV or STIs.
  • If sex education is offered, curriculum must stress abstinence.
  • If sex education is offered, curriculum is not required to include instruction on consent.
  • If sex education is offered, curriculum is not required to include instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Arkansas has no standard regarding the ability of parents and guardians to remove their children from sex education instruction.
  • Arkansas has no standard regarding medically accurate sex education instruction. However, instruction on dating violence must be based on scientific research.

State House Highlights

This section highlights sex education bills that were introduced during the 2020 state legislative session as well as bills that have been introduced thus far in 2021. These proposed bills ​provide a brief overview of both recent and current legislative action taken to advance or restrict sex education. For a more comprehensive look at relevant legislation concerning sex education and related topics such as reproductive health care, LGBTQ rights, and HIV/AIDS, continue reading on to the “State Legislative Activity” section of Arkansas’ profile.

2021 Legislative Session

Senate Bill 389 (pending): Aims to require parental notification if sex education, or instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity, is provided. Curriculum must then be available for inspection.

2020 Legislative Session

No bills have been introduced thus far as it relates to sex education


More on sex ed in Arkansas…


State Law

Arkansas law does not require schools to teach sex education or HIV or other STIs instruction. If a school offers a sex education or AIDS prevention program, Arkansas Code § 6-18-703 states that abstinence must be stressed, as “it is the policy of the State of Arkansas to discourage … sexual activity by students.” Furthermore, every public school sex education and AIDS prevention education program must “emphasize premarital abstinence as the only sure means of avoiding pregnancy and the sexual contraction of [AIDS] and other [STDs].”

In order to be accredited by the Arkansas Board of Education, education standards require public schools to offer health and safety education, and students are required to complete 0.5 units of health and safety in order to graduate high school. In 2015, Arkansas Code § 6-16-1004 was amended to include dating violence awareness as a mandatory component of health and safety education for students in grades 7-12. Materials must be age-appropriate and based on scientific research.

Local school boards are empowered to establish school-based health clinics, which may provide sex education. Such education must include instruction on abstinence. School-based health clinics may also prescribe and distribute contraceptives with written parental consent. However, no state funds may be used to purchase condoms or contraceptives. Whether or not a school-based health clinic teaches sex education or distributes contraceptives is left to the discretion of the school board. Clinics cannot provide abortion referrals.

Arkansas statutes do not require parental permission for students to participate in sex education or HIV/AIDS instruction, nor do they indicate whether parents or guardians may remove their children from such classes.

State Standards

Arkansas maintains curriculum standards for physical and health education, addressing STIs and HIV beginning in grade five. The curriculum standards stress the importance of abstinence, as well as the possible physical, emotional, and social consequences of sexual activity. Specific course content is left to the discretion of the local school districts.

State Legislative Activity

State legislative activity related to sex education does not take place in isolation from the broader embroiled political and policy climate. Attacks on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning (LGBTQ) individuals, and efforts to limit access to abortion care and other reproductive health care services prevent students from receiving comprehensive sex education and accessing sexual and reproductive health care services. Below are highlights of current legislative activity related to these topics. Arkansas’ 2021 session convened January 11, 2021. 

TitleDescriptionStatusLegislative Topic
House Bill 1570Prohibits medical professionals from providing gender affirming care to minors. Enacted (2021) Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/4f4ce43c9635170f1290c7ed792fae54be2cd4ee29b7a5f15c18432209df45f016a872138003c04beed3dfe508d753a8
House Bill 1592 Prohibits public schools or open-enrollment public charter schools from entering into any type of transaction with an individual or entity that performs abortions, induces abortions, provides abortions provides abortion referrals, or counsels in favor of abortion.Enacted (2021) Reproductive Health Care https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/1fbe7a9881d26edd1bda7dfeb0379e000d93a8e7109ad334ce4e7d8870d3428ce400395c383d83da4bfadfcde6145004
House Bill 1646Amends the Arkansas Criminal Code to include fetuses within the definition of "person". Enacted (2021) Reproductive Health Care https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/865f8666666e2756a55bfaa2ebd3022b09e566bd63cc176086d4f65229ead5b6d5ea3b68ed1782be401ab9d1145549a6
Senate Bill 6Prohibits abortion unless in the case of a medical emergency. Enacted (2021) Reproductive Health Care https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/da58304b7c7a1e3f5af324445e1fdf5ea9729133e9317538de74c3008ff636dadd5cf556d15952847fa5080bcaee6357
Senate Bill 389 Requires parental notification if sex education, or instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity, is provided. Curriculum must then be available for inspection. Delivered to Governor (2021) Sex Education https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/7a6b11a60eea9ced7730cc7a025514a47a901c22073bd63af10afbe77727dba2bd08ac37407a0829b8e064057b13fa1e
Senate Bill 468Prohibits abortion based upon the fetuses race or the diagnosis or potential diagnosis of a genetic abnormality. Recommended for study in the Senate Interim Committee on Public Health, Welfare, and Labor (2021) Reproductive Health Care https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/e0a6ab05c15ac0767260aeaf6c2aa1f37e490d1a2e9f46f59924a77680ecb976aa344839a8337b0e3f805e43a49a3aa0
Senate Bill 510 Prohibits health care professionals from engaging in conversion therapy with minors. Referred to the Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor (2021) Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/ef10ed3d0ef45d364f8f496043cb39639480761b14c24bff8214659c2ef89197c84a0b17fd362a0def90e5af2efa6d4d
Senate Bill 655Requires each public school to provide comprehensive sex education. Recommended for study in the Senate Interim Committee on Education Committee (2021) Sex Education https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/ab4b0cd922e38cfed03e5459cd62774d21ff7140bb350bc2b8dc6c946752a52c444dfa86debfba1bc111e423b4fff071

Youth Sexual Health Data

Young people are more than their health behaviors and outcomes. While data can be a powerful tool to demonstrate the sex education and sexual health care needs of young people, it is important to be mindful that these behaviors and outcomes are impacted by systemic inequities present in our society that affect an individual’s sexual health and well-being. To learn more about Arkansas’ Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) results, click here.

Arkansas School Health Profiles Data 

In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the School Health Profiles, which measure school health policies and practices and highlight which health topics were taught in schools across the country. Since the data were collected from self-administered questionnaires completed by schools’ principals and lead health education teachers, the CDC notes that one limitation of the School Health Profiles is bias toward the reporting of more positive policies and practices. In the School Health Profiles, the CDC identifies 20 sexual health education topics as critical for ensuring a young person’s sexual health.

Arkansas did not participate in the 2018 School Health Profiles. Below are key instruction highlights for secondary schools in Arkansas as reported for the 2015–2016 school year. In this edition of the School Health Profiles, the CDC identified 19 sexual health education topics and has since updated the number of topics to 20.

Reported teaching all 19 critical sexual health education topics

  • 18% of Arkansas secondary schools taught students all 19 critical sexual health education topics in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 38% of Arkansas secondary schools taught students all 19 critical sexual health education topics in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching about the benefits of being sexually abstinent

  • 70% of Arkansas secondary schools taught students about the benefits of being sexually abstinent in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 93.9% of Arkansas secondary schools taught students about the benefits of being sexually abstinent in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching how to access valid and reliable information, products, and services related to HIV, other STDs, and pregnancy

  • 58.1% of Arkansas secondary schools taught students how to access valid and reliable information, products, and services related to HIV, other STDs, and pregnancy in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 87.8% of Arkansas secondary schools taught students how to access valid and reliable information, products, and services related to HIV, other STDs, and pregnancy in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching how to create and sustain healthy and respectful relationships

  • 67.8% of Arkansas secondary schools taught students how to create and sustain healthy and respectful relationships in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 90.2% of Arkansas secondary schools taught students how to create and sustain healthy and respectful relationships in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching about preventive care that is necessary to maintain reproductive and sexual health

  • 50% of Arkansas secondary schools taught students about preventive care that is necessary to maintain reproductive and sexual health in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 82.9% of Arkansas secondary schools taught students about preventive care that is necessary to maintain reproductive and sexual health in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching how to correctly use a condom

  • 21.3% of Arkansas secondary schools taught students how to correctly use a condom in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 49.9% of Arkansas secondary schools taught students how to correctly use a condom in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching about methods of contraception other than condoms

  • 36.6% of Arkansas secondary schools taught students about methods of contraception other than condoms in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 74.8% of Arkansas secondary schools taught students about methods of contraception other than condoms in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching about sexual orientation

  • 30.8% of Arkansas secondary schools taught students about sexual orientation in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 59.9% of Arkansas secondary schools taught students about sexual orientation in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching about gender roles, gender identity, or gender expression

  • 34.4% of Arkansas secondary schools taught students about gender roles, gender identity, or gender expression in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 60.8% of Arkansas secondary schools taught students about gender roles, gender identity, or gender expression in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported providing curricula or supplementary materials relevant to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ) youth

  • 44.1% of Arkansas secondary schools provided students with curricula or supplementary materials that included HIV, STD, or pregnancy prevention information relevant to LGBTQ youth.

(Visit the CDC’s School Health Profiles report for additional information on school health policies and practices.)

 

***The quality of sex education taught often reflects funding available for sex education programs. To learn more about federal funding streams, click here.

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