Highlights of Public Chapter 973 (Senate Bill 3310/House Bill 2630) became law in 2012, amending Chapter 6 of Title 9 of Tennessee code. The sex education reforms passed in 2012 accomplish several important things:

  1. The law now defines terms like abstinence that were never previously defined in Code. Prior to the reform, whoever taught sex education could define abstinence. This allowed some groups to limit abstinence to only vaginal penetration, allowing them to say they promoted abstinence while promoting all other kinds of sexual activity.
  2. The new law prohibits the promotion of a “gateway sexual activity.” A gateway sexual activity is defined as requiring sexual contact for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification, and reference is made to the long-standing definition of the term “sexual contact” in our criminal code.
  3. Because “sexual contact” is clearly defined in the criminal code, under that definition things like holding hands, kissing, etc. are not “gateway sexual activities.” Gateway sexual activity refers to the touching of genitalia and certain erogenous zones.
  4. The bill addresses a variety of current issues/concerns about present law.
    • Though the law is consistent with the current curriculum framework for sex education, by putting definitions in the law, it prevents that framework being quietly changed by some future state school board in ways inconsistent with abstinence.
    • It forbids schools from bringing into the schools to teach sex education groups that promote non-abstinence.
    • It addresses the concern that parents complain and nothing happens by providing:
      • If an LEA employee breaks the law, the director of schools is required to investigate and report to the school board which, in turn must report to the Department of Education which, in turn, will report to the Chairs of the House and Senate Education Committee.
      • It allows parents to sue outside organizations that come in and break the law and makes the threat of lawsuit meaningful by allowing the parent to recover his/her attorneys fees if they prevail.
      • Remedies under the previous law, criminal prosecution and withholding state funds from a school, were never applied and were therefore ineffective.

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