A culture war policy over sex education could break out again in Florida’s state house when a Senate committee Tuesday proposed a measure requiring public school authorities to hold hearings on what should be included in sex education curricula.
The move creates a potential conflict with a House bill requiring school districts to first seek parental permission before a student can be educated about human reproduction and its consequences.
The Florida debate is part of a broader national discussion, in large part driven by social conservatives, about whether public schools are the appropriate places to teach children about sex – including unwanted pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases like the virus that causes them, AIDS .
The move arrived before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee as a draft law designed to protect children from pornography and other harmful material, but turned into a proposal on sex education.
Comprehensive sex education is not mandatory in all of Florida, but state law doesn’t prevent school districts from providing such instruction in their classrooms. However, current state law requires school districts to provide comprehensive health education, including what is known as “awareness of the benefits of sexual abstinence as an expected standard and the consequences of teenage pregnancy”. It also includes a provision on dating violence and abuse and “the characteristics of healthy relationships”.
Some lawmakers are trying to rewrite the law so that sex education, when offered by a school district, isn’t automatically part of a child’s school curriculum. According to the Florida House proposal – and the first version introduced in the Senate – schools would have to obtain written parental consent if they wanted their children to take sex education classes.
“We are at a time when our core values are up for debate,” said Republican Senator Dennis Baxley. “They go to school and hear one thing and they go home and hear another thing – and that puts children in a difficult position.”
Senator Jeff Brandes, a Republican compatriot, offered a majority-backed compromise that would require school authorities instead to publicly debate what should be included in sex education curricula and publish that information online for parenting review, so that they can decide whether to exclude their children from such classes.
Senator Annette Taddeo, a Democrat, urged her colleagues on the committee to protect her version from attempts to replace it with the House version.
“I think this education is important for our children,” she said.
Sex education has long been an area of heated debate. In Idaho, a proposal would require that a student not be exposed to discussions about gender identity, sexual orientation, sexual intimacy, and eroticism without parental consent.