A recent vote by the Hawaii Board of Education concluded that as of next year, public schools in the state must begin to offer sex education classes rather than allowing individual schools to make the decision themselves.
A 5-1 vote by the state Board of Education to require comprehensive, medically accurate sex education in the state overturned the previous policy which made the state one of only 10 not to have a require such teachings in its public schools.
Previously, individual schools in Hawaii made their own decisions concerning whether or not to teach sex education, with parents required to opt their children into the offered courses.
A 2013 survey compiled by the CDC found that 54.1% of Hawaiian teenagers who admit to being sexually active said they did not use a condom the last time they had sex. That percentage is higher than in any other state in the country. In addition, 49% of middle schoolers said they had not yet learned about HIV or AIDS.
"This is a step in the right direction," Diana Thu-Thao Rhodes, the director of public policy at Advocates for Youth, a national advocacy group, told Fusion. "It ensures that young people have access to sex ed, which is key in helping them take personal responsibility for their health and wellbeing." The previous policy led to a "patchwork of policy around the state," she said.
However, there are some who do not support the change. Representative Bob McDermott said it "continues to push social engineering over the health and safety of our children." McDermott previously pushed for the word "anus" not to be included in any sex education offered in the state.
The new curriculum will still focus on abstinence as "the best way to prevent pregnancy and avoid sexually transmitted diseases," although information pertaining to contraceptives and sex appropriate for age will also be included.
There are currently only 9 other states in the country that do not require sex ed to be taught to students. Only 13 states in the nation require that sex ed classes include medically-accurate information.
At the same time, Hawaii has seen a large drop in the number of abortions performed over the last five years, falling almost 30% between 2010 and 2014 — the largest decline in the nation. The historically high teenage pregnancy rate in the state is also seeing a decline.
According to agencies such as Planned Parenthood, the drop is due to the recent changes made to sex education policies, which have caused an increase in the number of sex education programs in schools since 2010.