REACH bill aims to require inclusive, comprehensive sex education in Illinois schools

By Elena Schauwecker, Staff Reporter

Sex education is not required in Illinois public schools, but in early February, Illinois lawmakers introduced a bill that will provide every K-12 student with a comprehensive sex education and implement a curriculum inclusive to LGBTQ students and non-traditional families. 

The Responsible Education for Adolescent and Children’s Health Act, or REACH Act, is sponsored by Democratic State Sen. Ram Villivalam, who spoke in a press release about the rapid increase of child sex abuse scandals, sexual harassment in the workplace, sexual assault on college campuses and the bullying of LGBTQ students. 

“Now more than ever, they need medically and factually accurate information as well as a safe environment to develop the skills they need to navigate our modern world,” Villivalam said. 

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The bill would require the curriculum begin as early as kindergarten. While this has been a particularly controversial component of the legislation, State Rep. Kathleen Willis maintains in a press release that it is essential to begin teaching children about their bodies while they are still young.

“It is not too early to start teaching children as young as preschool and definitely by kindergarten about healthy relationships. We are hearing more and more about kids that get bullied at a young age and that is something we need to take a step forward on,” Willis said. 

O.J. Duncan, an activist from Carbondale’s Rainbow Café, agrees with Willis about the importance of teaching consent to children as early in life as possible. He said it will help children to recognize sexual abuse and vocalize any inappropriate behaviors to which they are victims.

“Consent does not apply to just sex. It applies to anything involving them and their bodies and should be taught early,” Duncan said. 

Duncan stressed his belief that children should not be forced to give hugs, so they can learn they are never obligated to let someone touch them. 

Another major component of the bill is the implementation of sex education inclusive to LGBTQ students and students from “non-traditional” families, such as homes with single parents, same-sex parents or adopted children. 

“If you teach about a traditional family, you immediately tell people in a non-traditional family that they are less than other families. Everyone deserves to learn that they are normal, no matter what their family looks like,” Duncan said. 

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While the bill says 93% of parents support sex education in middle and high school, not everyone shares Duncan’s enthusiasm for the new proposed curriculum. The Illinois Pro-Family Alliance has spoken out against the bill, claiming the curriculum may undermine religious beliefs on controversial issues like abortion and pre-marital sex. 

It is clearly outlined in the bill that all parents may choose to opt their children out of the program. Molly Malone Rumley from the Pro-Family Alliance said she would rather parents be able to “opt-in” than “opt-out,” and she believes the curriculum will prevent parents from monitoring their children’s learning. 

Kim Oswald, a junior social work major at SIU, said she agreed with all the actions put forth by the bill but does not believe it is extensive enough to cover both the physical and emotional issues within sexual education. 

“They should go deeper into the emotional part of it,” Oswald said. “Like the bond that you create, or how you can regret it.” 

Oswald said all the sexual education she received in high school was focused on heterosexual relationships and the practice of abstinence. She said she believes a more diverse curriculum with a more realistic approach to safe sex will go far in preventing teen pregnancy, STDs and rape. 

Staff reporter Elena Schauwecker can be reached at [email protected]

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