By Taylor Easley (she/her), Minority Graduate Fellow in Public Health
Family Life Education (FLE) is a topic that is needed in school, and everyone can learn from it at any age. Also, FLE is an important subject to learn about because students can learn skills they can use in everyday life, like consent, boundaries, and healthy and unhealthy relationships. As a student with a disability who had access to FLE from 7th to 10th grade in Virginia, I looked forward to one or two weeks of FLE each year. However, my Individualized Education Programs (IEP) did not apply in FLE because, unlike my IEP goals for the school year that I had in other classes, like English and Math, I did not have IEP goals for FLE. This means that my family and I did not have the opportunity to discuss a plan and create goals for my FLE classes with the FLE teacher and IEP team.
In school, students with disabilities have access to all subjects, with the exception of FLE. In Virginia, schools are not required to provide FLE. However, 86% of schools do provide some FLE instruction. If a school district offers FLE, they must meet certain Virginia Department of Education requirements, but it is up to each school district to decide how FLE instruction is provided. This means that how often FLE instruction occurs, who teaches FLE, what curriculum is used, etc., varies across school districts.
If the county does require FLE, there are times when a student with a disability could be pulled out without their parent’s consent. I was lucky, and I was one of the few students with a disability in my school that was not pulled out of Family Life. Although I have learned many skills and tips from FLE that I still use today, having goals in my IEP around FLE would have helped me to know what I needed to focus on. FLE helped me, and I believe it would help other students with disabilities.
In 2020, Virginia’s General Assembly passed House Bill HB 134 and Senate Bill SB 186, requiring IEP teams in Virginia schools to consider the need for sexual health instruction when developing the IEP. Additionally, these laws require Virginia schools to develop guidelines for evaluating needs of students with disabilities as it relates to sexual health education. Now, in February of 2023, these guidelines have not been released. That same year, Virginia’s General Assembly passed House Bill HB 1336, requiring Virginia schools who offer FLE to review their curricula at least once every seven years to ensure it reflects current community standards.
In IEP meetings, there is talk about what the student with disabilities is learning and how they are doing in school. However, considering the need for sexual health instruction was not included in that discussion until now. With the passing of HB 134 and SB 186, parents will now be able to work with their child’s IEP team and set IEP goals related to sexual health instruction. An example of an IEP goal could be learning what consent means and how to give and receive consent verbally or by using gestures. The good thing about the goals is that they will be age and grade-appropriate and that the parents will have a say in what they are.
The disAbility Law Center of Virginia is working with the Disability-inclusive Sexual Health Network (DSHN), part of SexEdVA at James Madison University to get this information out to the public in Virginia. A Youth Advisory Panel at dLCV developed a Fact Sheet on student’s sex education rights. dLCV also created an IEP manual for parents, caregivers, and educators that includes a section on sex education and FLE in Virginia. This manual is being disseminated to 39 special education advocation and organizations.
Although FLE is not mandatory in Virginia, these new policies help students with disabilities and their parents advocate for goals related to sexual health to be part of the IEP. For examples of sexual health concepts that could be broken down into IEP goals to meet the needs of the student, you can refer to the Sexual Health Concepts resource on DSHN’s website. Parents know their children best and know what is best for them to learn when it comes to FLE. Parents can even ask their children what they would like to learn and what kinds of goals they have. Although this policy was not around when I was in school, I wish it had been; I know that it will help many students with disabilities and their parents. View more information about Family Life Education in Virginia on the VDOE website and Family life education law. For specific information on IEPs, refer to the Virginia law on individualized education program teams to consider need for certain age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate instruction.