A bill introduced in Florida aims to institute sex education standards for Florida public schools. “The Florida Healthy Teens Act,” Senate Bill 220 and House Bill 265, would require that schools that provide health instruction in human sexuality, pregnancy and/ or sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, teach “comprehensive, medically accurate, and factual information that is age-appropriate.”[i] Such courses would teach that “abstinence is the only certain way to avoid pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases,” and provide information on the benefits and possible side effects of contraceptives.”[ii] Courses would also teach students skills for responsible decision-making and for developing healthy human relationships. The Healthy Teens Act is sponsored by Senator Ted Deutch (D-Delray) in the Senate and Representative Keith Fitzgerald (D-Sarasota) in the House.[iii]
Current Florida law does not require students to receive sex education; instruction on HIV/AIDS and additional sexual health topics, such as contraception, is optional and determined at the district level. Moreover, by state law, any course instruction on human sexuality must teach “abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage as the expected standard for all school-age students while teaching the benefits of monogamous heterosexual marriage.”[iv] State law does not prohibit school districts from teaching comprehensive sex education; however, most school districts only offer abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, which leave students uninformed of vital information necessary to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
With a membership of 83 state and national organizations, the Healthy Teens Campaign of Florida has organized to garner support for the passage of the Healthy Teens Act in order to institute state health standards for comprehensive sex education.
On March 2nd, the Campaign jointly released a new report with SIECUS. Sex Education in the Sunshine State: How Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs Are Keeping Florida’s Youth in the Dark. The report examines the abstinence-only-until-marriage industry in the state and the miseducation provided in Florida schools as a result of the proliferation of abstinence-only curricula, which has been fueled by the mass influx of federal funding supporting these failed programs over the past decade.
Sex Education in the Sunshine State tracks the distribution of federal abstinence-only-until-marriage funding in the state and the resulting explosion of related curricula, materials, presenters, and activities in Florida public schools. The report revealed connections between organizations receiving abstinence-only-until-marriage funding and public schools in a number of Florida counties. Moreover, the research showed that the curricula and materials used for abstinence-only-until-marriage instruction in Florida schools contain information that promotes gender myths and stereotypes, rely on fear- and shame-based tactics, provide medically inaccurate information to students, and contain outdated data and information on the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The report also finds an incredible lack of oversight on the part of the State Department of Education. It is clear from the report that the prevalence of abstinence-only-until-marriage programming in the state provides a disservice to students and is harmful to young people and their health.
“The Healthy Teens Act will ensure that Florida teens receive comprehensive sex education that is age appropriate, including the facts that help protect them from diseases that threaten their health,” said Adrienne Kimmell, executive director of the Florida Association of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, a member organization of the Florida Healthy Teens Campaign. “Florida’s Legislature and Governor have the opportunity to ensure that all teens have the tools to protect themselves and make responsible decisions. It’s time to pass the Healthy Teens Act and reject ineffective abstinence-only funding.”
[i] S.B. 220, Florida 111th Regular Session, pre-filed 3 December 2008.
[ii] S.B. 220.
[iii] Juan Carlos Rodriguez, “Pushing Beyond Abstinence-Only-Policies,” South Florida Blade, 5 February 2009, accessed 13 February 2009, <http://www.floridablade.com/2009/2-5/news/localnews/5511.cfm>.
[iv] See Florida Statute, Title XLVIII, Chapter 1003, Section 46.