Before Thanksgiving Break, upperclassmen of Central were called over the intercom for a five-minute briefing on sexual misconduct according to the “new” Erin’s Law. In reality, however, the law and the issues it brings about are not “new” at all.
Erin’s law mandates that all public schools grades K-12 educate their students about sexual abuse, how to identify it, how to prevent it, and how to get help and tell someone you trust. The law not only says that children should be educated, but that school faculty and parents should also be briefed on the warning signs of sexual abuse and how to help students in need (1).
It’s named after abuse survivor, author, and speaker Erin Merryn. She and the campaign she created have passed the law in 35 states with even more pending as of 2018. One of those states is Tennessee, but to the surprise of many, it’s not all that recent.
The law was passed in Tennessee by the General Assembly over five years ago in 2014. At the time of its passing, it seemed highly prioritized; it was even included in the Comprehensive State Plan that made sexual abuse prevention and education a “priority of state” (2).
However, the fall semester of 2019 is the first time this law has actually been put into action on our campus, and it’s the first time that many have even heard of it at this school or any other they’ve been to in Tennessee. Some may wonder why are we just now hearing about it.
Schools have been a little uncertain about compliance with the law since it was passed. In fact, a majority of the schools in Tennessee haven’t complied with it at all (3). The reasoning is pretty simple, but contradicts itself at the same time: they’re afraid of breaking the law. Well, a different law.
In 2012, two years before Erin’s Law, the “Gateway” Law was passed in Tennessee. It’s also known as the Family Life Curriculum or Family Life Instruction, which outlines the guidelines and requirements for sexual education programs statewide. These guidelines include that family life instruction will not promote or explicitly discuss any “gateway” sexual activity, provide any materials that may promote gateway activity, provide any contraception to students on school grounds, or demonstrate with any device or item manufactured for sexual activity or that promotes sexual activity (4).
In simpler terms, the law states that though students should be informed, the main goal is to teach and encourage complete abstinence above all else. That being said, schools that haven’t been in compliance with Erin’s law are afraid that the lessons they would be required to teach would go against the guidelines of the Family Life Curriculum. By abiding by the law, they could actually be breaking another law.
The reason Central is now actively complying with Erin’s Law was not made immediately clear at the time of publishing.
- “What is Erin’s Law?” – erinslaw.org
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 37-1-601
- “2018 Legislation” – awaketn.org
- Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-6-1304
- TN Journal – On The Hill
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