Nebraska’s Sex Education Snapshot
The State of Sex Education
Advocates have made multiple efforts over the past seven years to advance sex education in Nebraska, including both successful local efforts and unsuccessful statewide efforts. Most recently, advocates in Nebraska are facing significant efforts to limit sex education with the introduction of Legislative Bill 768. Introduced by Senator Joni Albrecht, Legislative Bill 768 would severely limit schools’ ability to teach comprehensive sex education by prohibiting the State Board of Education from developing, approving, distributing, adopting, or promoting academic content standards for subjects other than reading, writing, mathematics, science and social studies. Opponents of the legislation cite a recent survey of Nebraska youth asserting just one in three LGBTQ youth feel affirmed in their home. Additional youth data from Nebraska indicates all young people desire more school-based sex education, with 40% currently reporting feeling unsafe in classrooms due to the way sex education is currently taught. Passage of this legislation would impede youth in Nebraska from accessing essential information on sexual orientation, gender identity, consent, and healthy relationships.
In 2016, Nebraska’s largest school district, Omaha Public Schools serving over 53,000 students, approved new human growth and development standards. A non-discrimination statement was updated that same year to include instruction on sexual orientation, gender identity, emergency contraception, abortion, and sex trafficking. While successful with the support of many organizations, including the Women’s Fund of Omaha, these efforts did not advance without opposition. The Nebraskans for Founders Values actively opposed the district’s proposed amendments. They later distributed materials urging community members to oppose the campaign efforts of board members who supported the efforts to advance the sex education requirements in Omaha Public Schools and later ran for reelection and legislative seats in local districts.
Millard Public Schools also implemented updated sex education standards in 2018. The updated curriculum successfully expanded the range of grades that are required to teach topics related to sex education while maintaining an emphasis on abstinence. However, the requirements fail to include instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity and do not require curriculum to be medically accurate or evidence based. The Millard Public School system is not unique in its approach, as each school district is empowered to decide if and how they provide sex education curriculum. Recently in 2022, the Kearney Public School district approved sex education standards. Curriculum includes instruction for grades K-12.
At the statewide level, in September 2019, the Nebraska Department of Education revised their Nondiscrimination and Equitable Educational Opportunities in Schools Position Statement to be inclusive of a multitude of identities, including sexual orientation and gender identity, race, ethnicity, disability, and economic status. Then, in Summer 2020, the Nebraska Department of Education teamed up with educators to develop the first Nebraska Health Education Standards. Unfortunately, this process was indefinitely paused in September 2021 by the Nebraska State Board of Education due to significant conservative attacks and pushback on the effort. Dozens of young people testified in support of inclusive sex education but their voices and insight were drowned out by the adults. No young people testified against the first draft of the standards. The postponement allows districts to maintain their power to develop and adopt their own standards, a practice unfair to young people who go to school in districts with insufficient sex education requirements.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic limited advocate’s strategic efforts for programmatic expansion and interrupted existing sex education programming. Closures and restrictions have reduced the ability of after-school programs to deliver sex education programming, further exposing the way in which the unprecedented pandemic has limited the ability of young people to receive advanced sex education statewide.
Sex education is not currently mandated in Nebraska and schools that choose to teach sex education must emphasize abstinence. Because Nebraska 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. 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.
Advocates report that some youth in Omaha Public Schools receive advanced instruction, including the Rights, Respect and Responsibility (3Rs) curriculum developed by Advocates for Youth. However, other districts such as Gretna Public Schools, rely on restrictive, abstinence based curriculum such as Willing to Wait. In Nebraska, Black youth in particular face racist, systematic barriers to health care and education that result in disproportionate adverse health outcomes. For example, a 2020 report found that Black youth experience chlamydia infection rates more than seven times higher than white youth, and over twice the rate of the second highest rate experienced by American Indian youth. In addition to ensuring all young people have access to health care and education, requiring sex education to be culturally responsive to the needs of youth of color addresses the additional socioeconomic structures these young people experience.
Advocates report that the state’s lackluster sex education requirements have resulted in some students receiving instruction that is not age-appropriate, medically accurate, or inclusive. Students have reported that there is an increased demand for sex education curriculum in Nebraska schools. To improve access to sexual health knowledge and improve health outcomes for youth in Omaha, the Women’s Fund of Omaha established Access Granted, formerly known as Get Checked Omaha. Access Granted provides information related to STI prevention, and has compiled maps to identify locations that offer STI testing and free condoms. In addition, the Women’s Fund of Omaha oversees Take Control Nebraska, which distributes free birth control statewide. Planned Parenthood North Central States also provides three community sex education programs in Omaha and Lincoln, and surrounding areas.
Despite the presence of organizations invested in advancing sex education across the state, advocates note that the lack of a unified effort to advance sex education requirements is one of the major barriers to advancing sex education in Nebraska. Further, advocates report a need for increased support for advancing sex education from district boards of education and an increased ability to dispel myths and concerns regarding comprehensive and inclusive sex education.
Right now, advocates can take action to ensure young people in their community have access to quality sex education. Advocates can determine what topics are missing from sex education instruction, such as instruction on consent, sexual orientation and gender identity, and contraceptives, and contact their local school board members. They can also vocalize the important need for advancing sex education requirements in their community. Advocates are encouraged to take action on pending legislation that seeks to advance or restrict the principles of comprehensive sex education. For a current overview of pending legislation, see table below. Additionally, reach out to EducateUs to get connected to local advocacy groups. Further, advocates can contact their representatives to discuss the critical need for advancing comprehensive sex education. To facilitate these changes, current advocates note that actively participating in local school board elections is critical in ensuring efforts to advance sex education move forward. Advocates are encouraged to use the SIECUS Community Action Toolkit to guide local efforts.
State Sex Education Policies and Requirements at a Glance
- Nebraska schools are not required to teach sex education.
- If a school chooses to teach sex education, curriculum must emphasize abstinence as the expected standard.
- If a school offers sex education, curriculum is not required to include instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity. However, all curriculum must be equitable and not discriminate against students based on their sexual orientation or gender expression.
- If a school offers sex education, curriculum is not required to include instruction on consent. However, curriculum must include instruction on identifying characteristics of healthy dating relationships.
- Nebraska has no standard regarding the ability of parents and guardians to remove their children from sex education instruction.
- Nebraska has no standard regarding medically accurate sex education instruction.
State House Highlights
This section highlights sex education bills that were introduced during the 2021 state legislative session as well as bills that have been introduced thus far in 2022. 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, racial equity and justice, parental rights, bullying and harassment, mental health, assault and violence prevention, and HIV/STIs as it impacts youth, continue reading on to the “State Legislative Activity” section of Nebraska profile.
2022 Legislative Session
Legislative Bill 768 (failed): Removes language requiring “comprehensive” instruction in health education and disallows the State Board of Education from developing or approving academic content standards in a new content area not already mentioned in the current code.
Legislative Bill 1213 (pending): Prohibits a school, school district or the Nebraska Library Commission from providing K-12 students with online or digital resources considered to be obscene or harmful as defined in state law.
2021 Legislative Session
Legislative Bill 282 (pending): Prohibits ‘obscene’ materials in schools outside of postsecondary institutions.
Legislative Bill 281 (pending): Requires child sexual abuse prevention instructional programs for school students and staff.
More on sex ed in Nebraska…
Nebraska law, Revised Statutes Chapter 79 Section 712, does not require sex education, nor does it limit or prescribe what can be taught in such classes or recommend a specific curriculum.
In the Nebraska Health Education Frameworks, the Nebraska State Board of Education supports “an abstinence approach to risk behaviors associated with … sexual activity” and declares that all “state monies shall be dedicated to abstinence programs.” The board also adopted specific abstinence-only guidelines to be used in any school unit involving family life or sex education. The guidelines include teaching that “abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage is the expected standard for all school-age children” and “a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity.” The guidelines also note that the best way to develop family life or sex education units is for parents, school boards, and teachers to work together with schools, districts, and communities “so all have a voice in the process and content.”
Nebraska state law does not require parental permission for students to participate in sex education or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) education, nor does it say whether parents or guardians may remove their children from such classes. However, the Board of Education does recommend that school districts “inform parents of intended activities and permit parents to have their children excluded from the activities.”
In September 2019, the Nebraska State Board of Education revised their Nondiscrimination and Equitable Educational Opportunities in Schools position statement, detailing the Nebraska Department of Education’s commitment to educational equity to students regardless of “age, citizenship status, color, disability, economic status, ethnicity, family mobility, family structure, gender expression, gender identity, genetic information, marital status, national origin, political affiliation, pregnancy, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, tribal membership, or veteran status.”
The Nebraska Department of Education engaged a group of educators (teachers, administrators, ESU staff, postsecondary representatives) in developing Nebraska Health Education standards to create a framework for K-12 health education. A first draft was released in March 2021 with a second draft released in July 2021. The Nebraska Board of Education voted to pause the process in September 2021. With statewide conversations around health education standards continuing, advocates have the opportunity to advocate for more inclusive standards in Nebraska. The SIECUS Community Action Toolkit is an essential resource for advocates to get started championing comprehensive and inclusive sex education standards.
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, attempts to restrict or prohibit instruction on “divisive concepts” such as Critical Race Theory, 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. Nebraska’s 2022 session convened on January 5, 2022.
|“Let The Grow Act” (Legislative Bill 574)||Prohibits gender affirming care for minors (under 19); prohibits state funding from going towards any organization that provides gender affirming care for minors; individuals and their parents/guardians can bring a civil action against health care providers who perform gender affirming care on the individual(s).||Introduced (2023)||Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity||https://nebraskalegislature.gov/FloorDocs/108/PDF/Intro/LB574.pdf|
|Legislative Bill 575||Requires bathrooms and sports teams to be designated on the basis of biological sex||Introduced (2023)||Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity||https://nebraskalegislature.gov/FloorDocs/108/PDF/Intro/LB575.pdf|
|Legislative Bill 374||Establishes parental rights||Introduced (2023)||Parental Rights, Curriculum Transparency, and Book Bans||https://nebraskalegislature.gov/FloorDocs/108/PDF/Intro/LB374.pdf|
|Legislative Bill 179||Prohibits medically licensed individuals from providing conversion therapy to anyone under 19 years old. Allows for religious figures to provide conversion therapy as long as they do not do so in the capacity of a healthcare professional.||Introduced (2023)||Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity||https://nebraskalegislature.gov/FloorDocs/108/PDF/Intro/LB179.pdf|
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 Nebraska’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) results, click here.
Nebraska School Health Profiles Data
In 2019 the 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 education topics that it believes are critical to a young person’s sexual health. Below are key instruction highlights for secondary schools in Nebraska as reported for the 2017–2018 school year.
Reported teaching all 20 critical sexual health education topics
- 12.9% of Nebraska secondary schools taught students all 20 critical sexual health education topics in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
- 24.8% of Nebraska secondary schools taught students all 20 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
- 60.3% of Nebraska secondary schools taught students about the benefits of being sexually abstinent in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
- 81.2% of Nebraska 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
- 52.9% of Nebraska 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.
- 81.2% of Nebraska 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
- 61.7% of Nebraska 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.
- 80.6% of Nebraska 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
- 47.8% of Nebraska 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.
- 64.0% of Nebraska 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
- 32.9% of Nebraska 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 Nebraska 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
- 36.3% of Nebraska secondary schools taught students about methods of contraception other than condoms in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
- 56.2% of Nebraska 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
- 31.3% of Nebraska secondary schools taught students about sexual orientation in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
- 43.8% of Nebraska 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
- 33.0% of Nebraska secondary schools taught students about gender roles, gender identity, or gender expression in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
- 42.9% of Nebraska 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 Nebraska 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.Back to the SIECUS State Profiles