Legislation that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law back in June giving parents more control over the sexual education of their children is now being carried out within the Monroe County School District (MCSD). The schools are making available an opt-out form for sex ed in case parents don’t like the subject matter that’s being taught to their kids.
“This is part of state legislation, recently approved, under statute 1003.42,” Christina McPherson, executive director of teaching and learning for the district, told Keys Weekly.
The statute reads as follows: “Any student whose parent makes written request to the school principal shall be exempted from the teaching of reproductive health or any disease, including HIV/AIDS, its symptoms, development, and treatment. A student so exempted may not be penalized by reason of that exemption.”
The statute also asks that instructional materials used to teach reproductive health or any disease, including HIV/AIDS, “must be annually approved by a district school board in an open, noticed public meeting.”
In the Dec. 14, 2021 school board meeting, school district staff members presented a new sex education curriculum that includes such topics, called FLASH (Family Life and Sexual Health). Staff also mentioned that a parental opt-out form is available on the MCSD website.
According to floridapolitics.com, when Republican State Rep. Linda Chaney originally filed the bill, she wanted to make sexual education in the state entirely “opt-in.” In other words, Chaney wanted all parents to sign a form consenting that their children can receive sexual education in the first place.
However, the bill passed with more bipartisan approval when it was amended to change the consent process to include opt-out forms if desired by the parents.
Marissa Malone-Means, coordinator of STEM & comprehensive health, said the FLASH program is for students in grades 6 through 12. “Topics for grades 6 to 8 include decision-making for healthy relationships with family and friends, and self-esteem,” she said. “For grades 9 to 12, topics include reproductive system and pregnancy.”
In addition, 6th grade FLASH lessons teach about puberty and menstruation, while human reproduction as a unit is covered in 7th grade.
Malone-Means also noted that abortion is not covered but birth control is discussed with the older students in the FLASH curriculum.
Statute 1003.42 takes a strong position on abstinence.
“The health education curriculum for students in grades 6 through 12 shall include an awareness of the benefits of sexual abstinence as the expected standard and the consequences of teenage pregnancy,” the statute reads.
But statistics from the 2019 Florida Youth Risk Behavior Survey Report indicate that many Florida teens don’t consider abstinence or even birth control to be an option. The survey is conducted by the Florida Department of Health in collaboration with the Florida Department of Education and school districts statewide, and it is taken by a random selection of 9th to 12th graders. It said that 36.6% of high school students have had sex, and 14.7% of high school students did not use any sort of birth control during the last time they had intercourse.
“Teens have always had sex, and I don’t see that changing,” said Cali Roberts. She is the executive director of Key West’s Womankind, a federally funded nonprofit agency that provides family planning and gynecological and primary care to women, men and teens. “Everybody knows someone who has a young mother.”
Roberts said half of the girls in Key West High School are WomanKind patients, and that at any given time, the clinic has 350 female students between the ages of 13 and 20.
“I highly support parents having complete control of what they feel is appropriate for their child,” she noted. “I have a problem with people just being afraid of the word ‘sex’ itself and immediately reacting with: ‘No, my child can’t learn that.’ Silence is not sex education.”
She pointed out that Monroe County has a low teen pregnancy rate as compared to the rest of the state.
“Changing the statewide guidance concerns me, as there are counties in the state that have high teen birth rates that we never want to emulate,” she said. “Liberty County has 19.7 teen pregnancies per thousand girls up to the age of 20. That’s four times higher than Monroe County for teen birth rate. Our current rate is 4.75 pregnancies per thousand girls up to age 20. Monroe County does an excellent job, and I hope to continue that.”
For more information about the school district’s new sex ed currciculum FLASH and the opt-out form, go to www.keysschools.com/Page/892.