State Profiles

Rhode Island’s Sex Education Snapshot

In 2019, Representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, Representative Susan Donovan, and Representative Teresa Tanzi introduced House Bill 5046 in an effort to require students to receive instruction on safe relationship behavior and training on the prevention of relationship abuse, sexual violence, and sexual harassment. While the bill was ultimately unsuccessful, advocates are continuing to work to advance sex education statewide.

In 2018, legislators successfully passed House Bill 7044 to permit instruction on consent in sex education in secondary schools. Rhode Island has a long history of taking incremental steps to advance sex education, beginning in 2006 when the Rhode Island Department of Education stated that schools should not administer abstinence-only curriculum provided by Heritage Rhode Island (which closed a year later). This curriculum was reported to include inaccurate information about STDs and stigmatizing instruction directed towards LGBTQ individuals and women.

Sex education in Rhode Island is required to include instruction on a variety of topics including reproduction, abstinence, dating and dating violence, marriage, and parenthood, as well as information about STDs, sexuality, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Despite these requirements, curriculum is not mandated to be comprehensive. The lack of such requirements present further challenges in ensuring that low income districts have access to the resources needed to implement comprehensive sex education.

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 if sex education is required to be comprehensive, and if not, what topics are missing from instruction. This may include topics such as consent, healthy relationships, and contraceptive options, or ensuring curriculum is culturally responsive to the needs of young people of color. 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 ensuring schools are supported in implementing comprehensive sex education statewide. Advocates are encouraged to use the SIECUS Community Action Toolkit to guide local efforts to advance sex education.

State Sex Education Policies and Requirements at a Glance

  • Rhode Island schools are required to teach sex education.
  • Curriculum is not required to be comprehensive. However, sex education occurs within what is described as a “comprehensive school health education program.”
  • Curriculum must stress abstinence.
  • Curriculum must include instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
  • Curriculum must include instruction on consent.
  • Parents must be notified of sex education classes and may view the curriculum by submitting a written request. Students may be removed from instruction by written notification from the parent to the principal. This is referred to as an “opt-out” policy.
  • Rhode Island has no standard regarding medically accurate sex education. However, curriculum must be “accurate” to be in accordance with 16-22-17.

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 Rhode Island’s profile.

2021 Legislative Session

House Bill 5604 (pending): Aims to require sex education curriculum to be appropriate for students regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnic or cultural background, recognize pleasure based sexual relations, inclusive of LGBTQ relationships in discussions or as examples, and include instruction on gender, gender expression, gender identity, and the harm of negative gender stereotypes. An identical, companion bill was introduced in the Rhode Island Senate.

More on sex ed in Rhode Island…


State Law

Rhode Island schools are required by Rhode Island General Laws §§ 16-1-5, 16-22-17 and 16-22-18 to provide “accurate information and instruction on [acquired immunodeficiency syndrome] AIDS transmission and prevention.” Schools must also teach “the responsibilities of family membership and adulthood, including issues related to reproduction, abstinence, dating and dating violence, marriage, and parenthood, as well as information about sexually transmitted diseases [STDs], sexuality, and sexual orientation.” These classes must stress “abstinence from sexual activity as the preferred means of prevention as a basic education program requirement.”

Parents must be notified of sex education classes and may view the curriculum by submitting a written request. Students may be removed from instruction by written notification from the parent to the principal. This is referred to as an “opt-out” policy.

State Standards

Rhode Island provides three resources, Rules and Regulations for School Health Programs, Comprehensive Health Instructional Outcomes, and the Health Education Framework, all of which provide curricula development requirements that sex education instruction must be aligned to. “Sexuality and Family Life” represents its own instructional outcome, with components such as “us[ing] strategies that improve or maintain sexual health,” and requires discussion of “public health policies, government regulations, health promotion, and disease prevention, [including] issues such as abortion/contraception.”

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. Rhode Island’s 2021 session convened January 5, 2021.

TitleDescriptionStatusLegislative Topic
House Bill 5083Requires public schools to provide tampons and sanitary napkins in all gender neutral bathrooms and bathrooms designated for females.Enacted (2021) Reproductive Health Care https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/a441e05f607ac6b42dc68a153c73bf874a283a463cbac290158b4315fe874e57b5e3eb86e3bb7238498a9d92f1f4dc4c
House Bill 5604 Requires sex education curriculum to be appropriate for students regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnic or cultural background, recognize pleasure based sexual relations, be inclusive of LGBTQ relationships in discussions or as examples, and include instruction on gender, gender expression, gender identity, and the harm of negative gender stereotypes. Died in the House Committee on Education (2021) Sex Education https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/b4443a084e9217fba8b1f4440fe8572078a8b173e2f4c495cc38de5ff40d49a009f93ea194755e3c257b84393004dc17
House Bill 5865Prohibits abortion if the fetus is capable of feeling pain. Died in the House Committee on Judiciary (2021) Reproductive Health Care https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/491328a61c2fc6a2745d7138848b20d547680c3c7181e7adc720b9f6a17af508d59508d8a0ed48531d0cc737acc181eb
House Bill 6469Modifies language regarding dating violence education to include the discussion of varying types of dating violence. Enacted (2021) Sex Educationhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/6545e057e82b203dec21d7323d144ade72c07600ec68939f20f049ec6ff9c0f7d9b62ddf952e37bb51f70ac919bebf88
House Bill 7938Establishes the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act; defining "harrassment, intimidation, or bullying" to include actions motivated either by any characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or a mental, physical or sensory disability. Died in the House Committee on Health, Education, and Welfare (2020)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/7d5a2b985ba59bc8b79968440d5d2fef526356bd13f01f28196a96e05dda078957d70de358afb58fa0e3130f9ed53756
Senate Bill 282Prohibits discrimination against students attending public schools on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, socioeconomic status or mental, physical, developmental, or sensory disability, or by association with an individual or group who has, or is perceived to have, one or more such characteristics.Died the Senate Committee on Education (2021) Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/38d2997174c9982596701b918964b71f8550ccd51e5f6be5bbbe2ec090dc4696612e6338599be519fd5a01d63b0f1303
Senate Bill 463Requires sex education curriculum to be appropriate for students regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnic or cultural background, recognize pleasure based sexual relations, be inclusive of LGBTQ relationships in discussions or as examples, and include instruction on gender, gender expression, gender identity, and the harm of negative gender stereotypes. Died in the Senate Committee on Education (2021) Sex Education https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/1471f8597b1e3674ad15c18d5fc8a56e50592f9dddaeaeb22838331ab5a9a1d63f42db011393a1960d85ff372e0407b3
Senate Bill 669Prohibits abortion after the fetus is capable of feeling pain. Died in the Senate Committee on the Judiciary (2021) Reproductive Health Care https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/88bb446c2c73371e5867a37347b7d1626da2b645ae8c587d3c77cb33c7d07892d94e24d93e12944e827acb373780da66

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 Rhode Island’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) results, click here.

Rhode Island 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. Below are key instruction highlights for secondary schools in Rhode Island as reported for the 2017–2018 school year.

Reported teaching all 20 critical sexual health education topics

  • 22.3% of Rhode Island secondary schools taught students all 20 critical sexual health education topics in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 68.1% of Rhode Island 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

  • 88.9% of Rhode Island secondary schools taught students about the benefits of being sexually abstinent in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 97.7% of Rhode Island 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

  • 69.5% of Rhode Island 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.
  • 93.0% of Rhode Island 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

  • 94.4% of Rhode Island 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.
  • 95.3% of Rhode Island 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

  • 73.5% of Rhode Island 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.
  • 88.3% of Rhode Island 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

  • 22.3% of Rhode Island secondary schools taught students how to correctly use a condom in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 81.3% of Rhode Island 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

  • 66.8% of Rhode Island secondary schools taught students about methods of contraception other than condoms in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 88.3% of Rhode Island 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

  • 67.8% of Rhode Island secondary schools taught students about sexual orientation in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 88.6% of Rhode Island 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

  • 74.4% of Rhode Island secondary schools taught students about gender roles, gender identity, or gender expression in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 93.0% of Rhode Island 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

  • 64.3% of Rhode Island 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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