Massachusetts physical and sex education guidelines are getting an update for the first time in decades after a vote by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education Tuesday, Gov. Maura Healey announced. 

The board voted unanimously Tuesday morning to approve the updated comprehensive health and physical education framework.

Spanning 53 pages, the document suggests a curriculum which includes information on how gym classes should be taught, information on substance abuse, and ways to keep children safe from gun violence and social media influences. 

There is information on sex-ed and safety in dating relationships. The framework also advises local school departments to have teachers “Discuss how to foster empathy, inclusiveness, and respect around issues related to sexuality (such as sexual activity, sexual abstinence, sexual orientation), gender expression, and gender identity.”

Healey’s office said Tuesday’s vote came after a more than 60-day public comment period in which the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education received well over 5,000 responses through several means. 

The public comment period, in turn, came years after Healey’s office said the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education began revising the state’s framework alongside educators and health experts back in 2018. 

Healey’s mother taught health and sex ed and was a school nurse. Speaking on Tuesday, Healey said the guidelines are medically accurate and age appropriate. 

“I’m really proud that our administration acted quickly and that the board passed healthy frameworks,” Healey said at an event in Cambridge. “This will make for healthier results for young people around the state.”

The state last changed its guidelines in 1999.

“This has been a long time coming,” State Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley said this week. “There’s been a lot of changes since 1999.”

While the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education met, several protesters in front of the state education department’s headquarters in Malden said thousands of parents do not support these new sex-ed guidelines. 

“It will encourage children to keep too much from their parents about their gender identity,” one person said.

Local school districts have control over their curriculum, though, and state law gives parents some power as well. 

“Ultimately, when it comes to anything regarding sexuality, parents have the ability to opt out should they so choose,” Riley said.

The timeline of when changes reach schools will depend on individual school departments. 

While they have the option to make changes immediately, it is expected that districts will spend the current year reviewing the new framework and planning for future changes.

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