Most Fairfax Co. parents oppose coed sex education lessons, survey finds

About 85% of people who responded to a Fairfax County Public Schools survey oppose proposed changes that would put boys and girls in the same classroom for certain sex education lessons.

The results, shared with part of the committee reviewing the recommendations, were disclosed in December.

Virginia’s largest school system discussed proposed changes to its family and life education curriculum last spring, but opted in May to delay a vote on the recommendations. They instead called for more time to seek community feedback.

If approved, changes could be implemented for the 2023-24 school year.

However, a vote has not been scheduled.

In its report to the school board last spring, the county’s Family Life Education Curriculum Advisory Committee recommended gender-combined instruction for the Human Growth and Development unit for fourth through eighth graders. It also called for gender to be included in a 10th grade unit on sexuality. Many of the changes aim to make the curriculum more inclusive, the committee said in its 2021-22 report.

Eighty-five percent of the 2,656 responses to the county’s survey indicated opposition to coed lessons for fourth through eighth graders. Responses to the survey came from 117 school system employees, 1,642 parents or caregivers, 97 students and 239 community members.

Some wondered whether the data in the survey is valid, citing a push by anti-family life education organizations to report comments that oppose changes, according to the December subcommittee presentation. Others considered whether all voices have been sufficiently represented.

According to that presentation, opponents of the changes expressed concern that students would be uncomfortable during coed lessons and would not ask questions of the instructor. Supporters indicated the coed format would take away shame and normalize, for all students, the changes in their bodies.

The survey was open from Oct. 31 to Dec. 1, 2022. The committee will either uphold its recommendations from last year, or craft new recommendations for the school board to consider. The full committee was scheduled to meet in January.

In its report last year, the committee said some Virginia school systems already do provide combined sex-ed classes. It also cited The National Association of School Psychologists in saying there’s “no available research to support the practice of gender-segregated instruction.”

The recommendations include having boys and girls in the same classroom for lessons on puberty, reproductive systems, sexually transmitted infections and abstinence in fourth through eighth grades. Currently, students are separated for those lessons.

The group also recommended combined lessons about breast and testicular cancers for 10th graders.

“Separation of students by boys and girls does not create an inclusive environment for instruction to occur,” the report says. “Dividing students into boys and girls classes sends a message that bodies different from their own should not be talked about and are mysterious.”

Parents in Fairfax County can currently opt their students out of certain Family Life Education lessons, according to the school system’s website.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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