Sex education in Broward under scrutiny amid state law changes

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – School Board members met Tuesday for a workshop about future changes in sexual education at Broward County Public Schools to abide by the state’s Parental Rights in Education law, which critics have gone on to refer to as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

Max Fenning attended the workshop as the president of PRISM FL, a nonprofit organization based out of Boca Raton that advocates for expanding access to “LGBT-inclusive” education and sexual health resources for youth in South Florida.

“Comprehensive sex education gives young people the tools they need to protect themselves if and when they decide to be sexually active, and yet the changes Broward sex ed curriculum are not born out of an abundance of caution, but rather an abundance of fear,” Fenning said while reading a statement.

There is also a relevant bill that the legislature is considering that applies to sexual education. Critics have dubbed it the “Don’t Say Period” bill because it restricts the subject to students who are in sixth grade or higher grades.

Teacher Sarah Leonardi, a School Board member who represents District 3, said the sexual education curriculum for students who attend public schools in Broward County needs to be comprehensive.

“Sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, physiology and anatomy, and contraception, all of these things are really important for our kids to learn,” said Leonardi, who was the 2016 Teacher of the Year at Coconut Creek High School.

Economist Allen Zeman, a School Board member-at-large who was elected in November, said the local curriculum has to be a reflection of the local values while in compliance with state and federal law.

“We also have Broward County values and they probably are inconsistent with some of the legislation that’s been passed,” said Zeman, who earned a doctorate in econometrics from Florida State University.

State lawmakers are also considering the Public PreK-12 Educational Institution and Instruction Requirements bill, which critics say is an expansion of the “Don’t Say Gay” law because it limits the use of pronouns that are incongruent with those applied at birth.

The state already bans lessons about LGBTQ with students in third grade or below and the teachers who violate the law stand to lose their licenses. The proposal to change the curriculum removes references to human anatomy, sexual reproduction, and chapters on LGBTQ.

The changes also include delays in lessons on puberty and the menstrual cycle to middle school. Seventh-grade students, and not second-grade students, will be learning about HIV and AIDS.

“We have a lot of HIV abuse here,” Zeman said. “We have different kinds of behaviors and risks inherent in what we do in Broward County, and we need to educate our students about it here.”

The workshop, which was open to the public, preceded an upcoming vote on the issue in May.

About the Authors:

Terrell Forney joined Local 10 News in October 2005 as a general assignment reporter. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, but a desire to escape the harsh winters of the north brought him to South Florida.

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.