RD82 - A Review of Family Life Education in the Commonwealth Report – November 2021

Executive Summary:

In the Commonwealth, local school divisions have the discretion to decide whether to provide family life education (FLE) to students, the grade levels at which it is offered, and the curriculum they use. For those divisions that do provide FLE, the Code of Virginia requires certain topics be covered regardless of the curriculum (§ 22.1-207.1:1) and local school boards offering FLE to review their curriculum once every seven years and adjust if necessary (§ 22.1-207.1). The Code also sets expectations of the Virginia Board of Education (Board), requiring it to develop comprehensive K-12 FLE standards and curriculum guidelines for divisions to access.

The Board has adopted standards and curriculum guidelines for FLE, which were most recently updated in 2020. Virginia’s FLE Standards of Learning include age-appropriate instruction in family living and community relationships, abstinence education, the value of postponing sexual activity, the benefits of adoption as a positive choice in the event of an unwanted pregnancy, human sexuality, and human reproduction, among other topics. Additionally, instruction is designed to promote parental involvement, foster positive self concepts, as well as provide mechanisms for coping with peer pressure and the stresses of modern living according to the students' developmental stages and abilities.

Responding to the flexibility in local implementation of FLE throughout the Commonwealth, the 2021 Appropriation Act required VDOE to conduct a statewide survey on FLE offerings by school divisions. In fulfillment of the mandate, VDOE deployed a survey in the summer of 2021 to better understand the availability of FLE instruction and content covered. VDOE issued Superintendent’s Memo #153-21 to school divisions in June, which provided information about the survey to be completed by all divisions and access to an online survey application. Survey questions were designed to elicit responses addressing the legislative requirement and are provided in Appendix A.

This report provides a summary of the responses received from that survey tool, and includes additional information about the Virginia Youth Survey results, as well as best practices for professional development for FLE teachers and for community engagement, in accordance with the Appropriation Act language. The survey results give a more nuanced and current snapshot of FLE education practices in Virginia’s school divisions than has been previously available. Findings reflect the diversity in FLE offerings, curriculum, and practices throughout Virginia. All 132 school divisions in the Commonwealth participated in the survey. Notable results include the following findings:

• 113 divisions, serving 96.2% of Virginia’s student population, report offering FLE instruction.

• Of the 113 school divisions indicating that they offer FLE, divisions report: o providing FLE lessons at elementary (67%), middle (73%), and/or high school (68%) levels.

o using a variety of resources to determine if the FLE curriculum provided is medically accurate, including health professionals (65%), health organizations (38%), evidenced-based curriculum from providers (16%), and/or other (4%);

o including a range of contraception options in FLE instruction (71%);

o including sexual orientation in FLE instruction (42%);

o including gender identity in FLE instruction (36%);

o using school board employees (e.g., teachers, counselors, school nurses) to instruct FLE at all levels (87%); and

o using data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey/Virginia Youth Survey to determine if there is any correlation between student behavior and the FLE curriculum offered by the school division (24%).