Florida School Board Adopts Comprehensive Sexuality Education Policy

On November 19, 2009, the School Board in Collier County, Florida, changed its existing abstinence-only-until-marriage policy to require that students receive instruction on condoms and contraception, as well as abstinence. This comprehensive approach will ensure that students receive the information they need to protect themselves against HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and to avoid unintended pregnancy.   
Board member Richard Calabrese proposed the revision to the district’s abstinence-only-until-marriage policy on June 18, 2009, asserting that the existing policy was “inadequate and very vague;” and noting that, though the policy did “not prohibit someone from teaching comprehensive sex education,” it was not required.[1] Some of the meeting’s participants were skeptical that such a change was necessary, but numerous community members, including parents, medical professionals, and clergy, advocated for the revised policy. A few speakers, however, opposed the revised policy. Among those speaking against the changes was Kathleen Sullivan, a self-proclaimed “pioneer in the abstinence education movement” and founder of Project Reality, an organization that was a leader in the movement throughout the 1990s which recently merged with the Abstinence and Marriage Education Partnership in 2008.[2] The Board resolved to address the issue on July 30, and, at that meeting, voted 3–2 to revise the policy following a lengthy and contentious discussion that included a significant amount of community involvement. 
In a workshop to revise the policy held on September 29, a proposal was introduced that simply added language regarding aspects of personal development and relationship-building to the existing abstinence-only-until-marriage policy; however, Calabrese eventually succeeded in revising the policy to include information on contraception and mandate that the curriculum be medically accurate.[3] 
On November 19, the Board held its final meeting regarding the new guidelines. As at previous meetings, many community members expressed support for the revised policy. Some opponents continued to argue against the change on ideological grounds, while others attempted to derail the proceedings by complaining that the Board was rushing to make a decision because Calabrese is retiring at the end of the current term, arguing that proper procedure was not followed, and claiming that the public did not have ample opportunity to review the proposed changes. In the end, the objections on process were judged to be baseless, and the Board voted 3–2 to implement the revised policy. Comprehensive health education instruction in Collier County schools now must include information on “reproductive and sexual health” that is evidence-based, medically accurate, and age-appropriate and teach students about contraception and condoms in addition to abstinence.[4] 
Florida education laws currently do not mandate that students complete a Health course in order to graduate from high school. Prior to the 2007-08 school year, students were required to complete a one-half credit course in “life management skills,” which had to include information on preventing HIV/AIDS and other STDs, while emphasizing the “benefits of sexual abstinence and consequences of teenage pregnancy.”[5] Today, the law does not require instruction on any aspect of sexual and reproductive health.[6] Some lawmakers and advocates in Florida are working to address these inadequacies in state law by passing the Healthy Teens Act. First introduced in 2009, the law, which did not make it out of committee, would have required that schools that choose to provide sexuality education provide education that is comprehensive, medically accurate, factual, and age-appropriate.5
“We applaud the Collier County School Board for creating a comprehensive sexuality education policy that will promote the health of the district’s students, as research consistently proves that ideologically based abstinence-only-until-marriage programs are ineffective,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS. “We call on the Florida legislature to follow the example set by the Board and pass the Healthy Teens Act thereby ensuring that students in the Sunshine state have the information they need to make healthy decisions and lead healthy lives.”

[1] Katherine Albers, “Sex ed policy under fire from Collier school board member,” Naples Daily News, 19 June 2009, accessed 9 December 2009, <http://www.naplesnews.com/news/2009/jun/19/school-board-member-wants-sex-ed-policy-include-re/>.
[2] Kathleen Sullivan, “A Letter from Project Reality,” Abstinence and Marriage Education Partnership, 10 November 2008, accessed 17 December 2009, <http://www.ampartnership.org/ProjectRealityMerge.asp>.
[3] Katherine Albers, “BLOG: Collier School Board talks about sex,” Marco Eagle, (29 September 2009), accessed 10 December 2009, <http://www.marconews.com/news/2009/sep/29/sex-video-collier-schools-contraception/>.
[4] “2417—Comprehensive Health Education,” School Board of Collier County Bylaws and Policies, 19 November 2009, accessed 10 December 2009, <http://www.neola.com/collier-fl/>.
5 “Healthy Teens Act,” Fla. SB 848 (2008), accessed 17 December 2009, <http://www.flsenate.gov/cgi-bin/view_page.pl?Tab=session&Submenu=1&FT=D&File=sb0848.html&Directory=session/2008/Senate/bills/billtext/html/>.


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