HCN News & Notes

State Senate Passes Healthy Youth Act and Breakfast After the Bell Legislation

BOSTON – State Sen. Adam Hinds (D- Pittsfield) announced that the Massachusetts Senate has passed S.2459An Act relative to healthy youth and S.2460An Act relative to breakfast after the bell. Hinds is a co-sponsor of both bills.

Commonly referred to as the Healthy Youth Act, S.2459 will ensure that Massachusetts schools electing to provide their students with sex education use age-appropriate and medically accurate curriculum that covers a comprehensive range of topics. The legislation also calls for sex education to be inclusive and appropriate for students regardless of gender, race, disability status, sexual orientation and gender identity.

“The standards set forth in this bill are key to ensuring that our young-people are well-equipped to make the best possible decisions in relationships as they get older,” said Hinds. “By ensuring that sex education in the Commonwealth is inclusive and providing comprehensive, age appropriate, and medically accurate information to our youth, we can be confident that our youth have the foundation for a successful future.”

Currently, when Massachusetts public schools provide their students with health education that covers sexual activity, there is no guarantee that the information provided is age-appropriate or medically accurate, he said. This legislation changes this by requiring school districts that offer sex education to follow certain guidelines to ensure students are provided with age-appropriate, medically accurate, and comprehensive information.

The Senate passed similar versions of the Healthy Youth Act in prior sessions and this most recent version incorporates additional feedback from experts as well as advocates. The legislationdoes not require schools to offer sex education and also protects parents’ right to remove their children from all or part of sex education if they chose to do so — an action protected by state law. In addition, it provides districts that teach sex education curriculum with updated guidance on how to notify parents about these programs. 

Notification to parents and guardians must be in English, as well as any other commonly spoken languages by parents. Districts must also have a process for parents to review the program instruction materials prior to the start of the course, if the parents request it. 

Sex education programs have repeatedly been shown to work best when they emphasize the value of delaying sex, while also teaching students about the importance of protecting themselves from unintended consequences. As demonstrated by numerous studies, comprehensive sex education programs have been proven to delay the initiation of sex, increase use of contraception, lower the rates of STIs and unintended pregnancy among teens, and reduce reported levels of bullying towards LGBTQIA youth in school.

This bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Also, S.2460 was passed unanimously by the Senate and will fight childhood hunger, boosting participation rates in school breakfast programs in the Commonwealth’s high-poverty schools. The bill will require all public K-12 schools with 60% or more students eligible for free or reduced-price meals under the federal National School Lunch Program to offer breakfast after the instructional day begins.

 “No child can be successful when they are worried about where their next meal will be coming from,” said Hinds. “This bill continues our fight to address inequalities in our education system, ensuring that all students have the same opportunities, no matter where they come from.”

Massachusetts currently requires all high-poverty schools to provide breakfast to every eligible student. However, because breakfast is typically offered before the bell and in the cafeteria, participation levels are low— at less than 40% — compared to 80-90 percent participation for free and reduced lunch. Moving breakfast from before the bell to after the bell is a proven strategy to boost breakfast participation to ensure that all students have the nutrition they need to start their day ready to learn, said Hinds.

This legislation would require approximately 600 Massachusetts schools serving low-income students to offer breakfast after the tardy bell through a variety of delivery models, including breakfast in the classroom, grab-and-go, and second-chance breakfast. This flexibility allows school districts to select the model that best fits their students’ needs

As a federally reimbursed program, Breakfast After the Bell has the potential to provide up to $30 million statewide to Massachusetts school districts that increase participation rates to 80 percent and above. These payments are made directly to school nutrition departments, helping to support jobs, update kitchen equipment, and provide healthier menu options.

The bill will now be reconciled with a similar version passed by the House of Representatives earlier this session.