Broward County school board to vote on sexual health education Tuesday

Sex ed curriculum hasn't been updated in a decade

Lauren Fant receives her final dose of the HPV vaccine in Marietta, Ga. Sex ed in Broward public schools hasn't been updated in a decade and does not include relevant medical updates such as the HPV vaccine.
Lauren Fant receives her final dose of the HPV vaccine in Marietta, Ga. Sex ed in Broward public schools hasn't been updated in a decade and does not include relevant medical updates such as the HPV vaccine. (The Associated Press)

Teens are more likely to know what LOL means than HPV, a sexually transmitted infection that is the cause of nearly all cases of cervical cancer.

The sexual health education curriculum in Broward County public schools -- the seventh largest school district in the country -- hasn't been updated in about a decade. And this is alarming to health officials, who estimate about 35 percent of teens have HPV. The vaccine was introduced in 2006.

Broward School Board member Robin Bartleman sided with several parents and activists, who did not think the curriculum prepared teens to grow up in an area that has some of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the nation.

"This is a matter of life and death for some of our teens who are not getting this information," Bartleman said.

On Tuesday, the nine school board members will get to vote on whether or not they will pass a change to the public schools' sex ed curriculum. The current lessons do not update teens on HPV vaccines, but does include outdated birth-control methods.

More than 47 percent of teens said they have had sex and 15 percent said they have had sex with four or more partners during their lifetime, according to a 2011 Centers for Disease Control survey.


Broward County is not the only school district that hasn't done its job at keeping sexual health education up to date with medical progress.

While 22 states and the District of Columbia require public schools to teach sex education in 2014, only 19 of those states require it to be medically, factually or technically accurate.

Last year a school in Texas instructed teachers to "encourage students to stay like a new toothbrush, wrapped up and unused. People want to marry a virgin, just like they want a virgin toothbrush or stick of gum." And in 2009, there was a school in California teaching kids that HIV/AIDS could be spread by kissing.

There is no uniformity in national education standards when it comes to sex ed. Some states have sided with religious groups that believe the topic has more to do with morality and values than with public health. Other states require signed parental authorization forms.

Kindergartners in Chicago are learning about anatomy, reproduction, healthy relationships and personal safety. Third graders are learning about inappropriate touching, fourth graders about puberty, and fifth graders about sexually transmitted diseases.

And then there is Mississippi, where the"abstinence-plus" program forbids teachers from explaining how to use condoms or including lessons on STDs -- but it does teach that homosexuality is illegal. Since 1996, the federal government has spent more than $1.75 billion on abstinence-only sexual education programs like that one.


The CDC's National Health Education Standards had a hand in developing the Family Life and Human Sexuality curriculum that the school board will be voting on.

The policy "ensures all students are receiving the same level of education as their counterparts in other parts of the country," Planned Parenthood's Cory Neering said in a statement. Her organization has been lobbying for the policy in Broward.

DOCUMENT: The Family Life and Human Sexuality Policy

Bartleman said that the new curriculum meets the "age appropriate" and "medically accurate" qualifications.

If it passes, it will have science teachers, who will train during the summer, talking to teens about sexual health education topics ranging from HPV vaccines to dating violence, sex abuse prevention, abstinence, sexting and social media.

From kindergarten to fourth grade, kids would be learning about anatomy and personal safety. From fifth grade through 12, teens would be discussing sexual orientation, gender identity and options on contraceptives.

Parents will have access to the curriculum before the first day of the 2014-15 academic school year, said district spokeswoman Tracy Clark. If parents believe the topic should be up to them to discuss, they will be allowed to opt their kids out of the lessons.

THE VOTE: School board meets from 10:15 a.m. to 1 p.m., Tuesday, at the Kathleen C. Wright Administration Center's board room, 600 SE Third Ave., Fort Lauderdale.