The debate over how and when public schools should address the sticky subject of sex education is not a new one.  What is new are some of the talking points included in today's agenda driven sex ed curriculum.  Politics and indoctrination have found a place in the classrooms of our public schools.  That is troubling to many parents, as it should be.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts requires the teaching of sex ed as part of the Health class curriculum at the middle school level.  The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education relies upon guidance from The Massachusetts Comprehensive Health Curriculum Framework, The National Health Education Standards and The National Sexuality Standards  in preparing the lesson plans middle school Health teachers will use.

Sexual education was pretty basic back when I was a kid in the early 1970's.  Times have changed since then.  We didn't know about HIV/AIDS when I was twelve. STIs / STDs were not being recorded in near epidemic numbers as they are today.  Teen pregnancies had yet to become socially acceptable and Roe vs Wade  as a form of protected birth control was still making it's way through the courts.

Today's sex education curriculum for 6th graders consists of lessons dealing with the male and female reproductive anatomy, physical and emotional changes during puberty and the ABC's of sexually transmitted diseases.  All good and valuable science-based   lessons that pre-teens need to learn but all too often are not being taught at home.

7th graders are learning about the stages of the human life cycle, safe and risky sexual behaviors and their potential outcomes, sexually transmitted diseases and how they are spread.  Again, all good and important lessons that arm our young people with important knowledge that could save their lives.

Where the Commonwealth fails us is by crossing a line into areas best left to families to deal with at home, such as: healthy relationships and boundaries, sexual harassment, gender identity vs sexual orientation, ways to express affection in relationships, setting limits on sexual behavior and abstinence.

The state is right to teach factual information about being sexually active,  the consequences of sexual activity and the potential dangers of risky behavior.  It has no right to push a political agenda that includes gender identity and sexual orientation or issues of affection or emotion.  Those lessons are the responsibility of the parents to teach.  Many parents who have difficulty broaching these subjects have called upon the clergy or professionals for assistance.

Parents should be aware of just what their child's sexual education curriculum entails.  They should also understand that they can opt their child out of such classes by notifying the school.

Most importantly, parents need to understand that it is a dangerous world out there and the best and most valuable information their kids can get to help navigate their way through it starts with open and honest discussions at home.

Editor's Note: Barry Richard is the afternoon host on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from Noon-3pm. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.