Each of Ohio's school districts decides what they want to teach.

In an era in which HIV is still a risk and teenagers are increasingly questioning—and experimenting with—their sexuality, public schools today seem to have little directive about how sex education is taught in the classroom.

The Ohio Board of Education does not mandate health education standards; rather, it establishes guidelines, based on Ohio law, regarding overall areas of study that should be included throughout curriculums in kindergarten through grade 12. This means that public school districts in Central Ohio and across the state must individually decide when, how and what topics related to sex education are taught in their classrooms.

Existing guidelines are broad. According to the Ohio Revised Code, instruction in personal safety and assault prevention should begin in grades kindergarten through six, and age-appropriate studies related to dating violence and healthy relationships, as well as venereal disease with an abstinence focus, should be covered between grades seven and 12. (The ORC also states that students may be excused from the instruction of personal safety, assault prevention and venereal disease with written consent from a parent or guardian.)

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and organizations such as the Ohio Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance offer curriculum planning tools and information, local school districts are left to prioritize subject matter based on time and their own resources. This can be a challenge with other important health topics such as substance abuse, suicide and bullying to consider. Only a few of the local districts responded to questions regarding their sexual education curriculum.

At Dublin City Schools, a comprehensive unit termed “Human Growth and Development” begins in eighth grade, and covers topics such as the growth and development of maturing males and females, responsible peer relationships including dating, dating safe people, sexual harassment and grooming, as well as other topics related to contraception and the emotional, social and physical risks of sexual activity. “The curriculum emphasizes the importance of abstinence and ways that reinforce positive decisions,” according to Dublin City Schools’ public information officer Doug Baker, who responded by email. Similar subjects are addressed within the high school health courses.

Pickerington Local School District’s public relations director David B. Ball provided a curriculum map of the district’s “Human Sexuality” unit which covers sexuality, male and female anatomy, abstinence, contraception and risks associated with sex, including teen pregnancy. Taught as part of the high school health courses, material in the unit incorporates a number of important vocabulary words pertaining to the subjects. Also among topics to be addressed are four ways STDs are spread, how HIV is contracted and how someone feels about his or her gender identity.