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Parental Consent Would Be Required For Students To Receive Sex Education Under Bill Advancing Through The Florida Legislature

Close up of a high schooler's hand holding a pencil while writing in a paper notebook.
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Rep. Linda Chaney (R-St. Petersburg) is sponsoring a proposal that would require written parental consent for students to participate in sex ed classes.

Florida parents can opt their students out of sex education. Now, students would need their parents' consent to receive sex education under a bill moving forward in the legislature. The measure's sponsor, Rep. Linda Chaney (R-St. Petersburg), says it's to increase transparency on what's being taught in the classroom. Chaney explains parents and grandparents in her district were denied access to view materials used in school sex education courses.

"Parents felt unprepared to discuss with their children what they were being exposed to in class of this sensitive material and felt they needed to make the decision for their child to participate or not just like they would for a field trip," Chaney says.

Chaney says transparency on what is being taught is not consistent across the state. Her bill would require school districts to give parents the opportunity to review the class material. It would also require parents to provide written consent in order for their kids to get sex education.

Elissa Barr, professor of Public Health at the University of North Florida, says that would stigmatize the courses.

"I think the message will be this is a taboo topic, it's not important for everyone, and it's not standard, which is very problematic," Barr says.

Barr says that's because other topics like math, English, and science are not opt-in.

"They're very standard, they're very important, and the same should be for health education, and particularly sex education when we're talking about things like abstinence and prevention of disease and healthy relationships," Barr says.

Diane Straub is a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of South Florida and Medical Director for the Ybor Youth Clinic. She says the opt-in policy would create barriers to sex education:

"I'm a parent, and I get busy, and I've missed permission slips before. It's just hard. There's just so much going on and so much to keep track of, and to get that permission slip back into the school is not that easy to do, and what if the kid decides not to bring it home? Right? Or the kid's embarrassed and doesn't want to show it to their parent?"

Straub says teenagers tend to have misconceptions about sex when they come into her clinic, making sex education important.

"There's a lot of misinformation out there, they're getting a lot of their information from the internet and from friends, and it's just amazing, like, I take care of these kids, and they're just like, 'well, you can't get pregnant if you have sex while standing up, right?' And I'm like, 'yeah, no, that is not true,'" Straub says.

Straub says adolescents also tend not to understand their risks for things like getting pregnant or contracting HIV.

"So, during that time, while they're learning, we have to teach them, yes, you are at risk, and yes, this is the information you need to protect yourself," Straub says.

Lawmakers also had concerns over Chaney's bill. Rep. Marie Paule Woodson (D-Pembroke Pines) voted against the bill during its first hearing.

"We are removing the process that we have in place that is working for our young men and women," Woodson says.

Woodson says under Chaney's proposal, fewer students would benefit from sex education. But others, like Rep. Clay Yarborough (R-Jacksonville), support the bill.

"Through this bill, we're not removing the curriculum. We need to make that point. We're not taking the curriculum away. We're empowering parents to be able to make that decision and giving them that opportunity which is what they need because they bear the ultimate responsibility for their children," Yarborough says.

Rep. Alex Rizo (R-Hialeah) says the opt-in policy doesn't create a barrier but rather an opportunity for parents to become more involved.

"And build upon education and communication with parents," Rizo says.

Chaney's bill passed its first committee stop and has one more to go before heading to the House floor.