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Duval schools start from scratch on sex ed materials

School board.JPG
Duval Schools livestream
The Duval County School Board meets Monday, Sept. 12, 2022.

Duval Schools pulled consideration of sex education curriculum this week and decided to develop its own teaching materials, a move shadowed by strict state laws and highly charged opinions among the public.

The School Board had planned Monday to consider curriculum materials from outside publishers, but the district dropped the topic from the agenda.

"It has become abundantly clear to me that our internal team can create lessons and materials that serve students’ educational needs and meet our requirements under the law,” Superintendent Diana Greene said in a blog post Monday. “Starting from scratch and adhering to the boundaries of Florida Statute will be a far easier task than trying to modify or find existing publisher materials that may or may not meet Florida’s standards.”

Florida Statutes require that school districts teach certain topics in health and reproductive education. Among other topics, the state requires education on acquired immune deficiency syndrome, including modes of transmission, risk factors and means of controlling the spread.

The instruction must be appropriate for the student's age and grade and it 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.
  • Emphasize that abstinence from sexual activity is a certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, including acquired immune deficiency syndrome, and other associated health problems.
  • Teach that each student has the power to control personal behavior and encourage students to base actions on reasoning, self-esteem, and respect for others.

The topic dominated discussion during Monday's School Board meeting. Seventy-six members of the public signed up to speak, most on the health and sex ed curriculum

“It is clear the particular curriculum has stirred emotions on both sides of the issue,” Greene said during the meeting. “Our requirement is to ensure we teach state standards.”

District 2 board member Elizabeth Andersen said she was concerned about letting public emotions guide school district decisions. Some community members come to board meetings specifically to stir emotions, and indulging them can harm children, she said.

"I'm very concerned that we continue to make these hasty and reactive decisions because people's emotions get stirred. We need to stay focused on what's good for kids," she said.

District 7 board member Lori Hershey disagreed that the move was hasty. She commended Greene and noted that some other districts have developed their own curriculums. She also stressed the need to tailor materials to issues in Duval County, including a high rate of sex trafficking.

Board Chairman Darryl Willie commented that providing students with comprehensive health and sex education is essential to combat high rates of pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.

"The reality is that our students are exposed to these things," Willie said. "We have to make sure that the students that are in our schools get as much education as they can."

Willie noted that the district already allows families to opt out of certain sex education instruction. "We have options for families who don't want their students exposed to certain things," he said. "But I don't believe that not exposing students is going to prevent some of the things we're going to see. The data has shown it."

Duval Schools now will assemble a team of health educators to develop new materials and lessons. The public will have a chance to review the recommended materials at a public hearing before they are adopted, Greene said.

No deadline has been set, but the district intends to provide the instruction required by law in the current academic year.

Randy comes to Jacksonville from the South Florida Sun Sentinel, where, as metro editor, he led investigative coverage of the Parkland school shooting that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for public service. He has spent more than 40 years in reporting and editing positions in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio and Florida. You can reach Randy at rroguski@wjct.org or on Twitter, @rroguski.