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Opinion: Proposed bill will restrict student access to sex education

Senate Bill 410 to require opt-in parental consent 

Sex education is a milestone for students everywhere. In Florida, proponents of Senate Bill 410 want to change this milestone, and not for the better. 

The new bill would restrict student access to sex education by requiring all students to get signed parental consent to “opt-in” for sex education lessons. The current policy allows sex-ed to be an “opt-out” lesson, meaning that parents can sign a form requesting their student’s absence from lessons regarding sexual health. This ensures that only kids whose parents actively want their children to be omitted from sex education are omitted. Otherwise, students attend classes like normal.

Bill 410 was proposed by Florida Senate member Ana Maria Rodriguez (R), who represents the 39th district of Fla. In the bill, Rodriguez argues that any materials regarding reproductive health or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are “harmful to minors.” Materials include books, pamphlets, magazines, and sound recordings. 

It is my belief that, not only are these materials beneficial to minors, but this bill as a whole will negatively impact students in the state of Florida, limiting their access to valuable resources and information regarding sexual and reproductive health.

Sex education is not only informative, it is effective. Students who receive comprehensive sex education are less likely to have an unplanned pregnancy or contract a STD. In fact, teens who receive comprehensive sex education are 50 percent less likely to report an unplanned teen pregancy than students who received no sex education or abstience-only sex education. 

Parents may be concerned that sex education will make teens more likely to have sex. This, however, is far from the truth. According to the CDC, over half of teens have been sexually active by age 18, and sex education or the lack thereof does not change this statistic. While sex education does not impact the rate of teen sexual activity, it does increase teens’ knowledge regarding STDs and contraceptives. Essentially, sex education does not encourage teens to have sex, but it does successfully encourage teens already having sex to incorporate safe practices.

Sex education is not only about “sex.” It is about stopping STDs, learning about healthy relationships, and preventing violence in relationships–all things that Florida requires be taught in its sex education program. 

For younger children, age-appropriate sex education does not even involve discussions of sex. It is as basic as explaining what areas of their body are not to be looked at or touched by anyone other than their doctor. For older teens, sex education can include discussions of what a healthy relationship looks like. 

By high school graduation, over a quarter of all woman and 15 percent of men will experience physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner. Teaching students warning signs of abuse can prevent them from experiencing abuse.

Sex education in Florida is far from perfect. It varies widely in different counties, stresses abstinence, and is not legally required to be medically accurate. By all means, if a parent wants to teach their child sex edcuation on their own, they have every right to. 

As of now, parents can talk to their child’s school and opt their child out of any school-sanctioned sex education. Sadly, many children do not have a parent who is willing or able to teach them about sex education. Roughly a quarter of teens report never having discussed sex education with their parents. In addition, many parents are not knowledgeable enough about reproductive health or contraceptives to give their children even a basic lesson.

Parents want what is best for their children. If a parent decides to not allow their child access to school-approved education for any reason, that is their right. This right, however, already exists; Bill 410 is restricting childrens’ access to sex education on the technicality of not getting a form signed.

I propose that sex education remains opt-out to allow for parents to exercise their right to their system of beliefs. I also believe that parents should be notified prior to any sex education lessons occuring. This allows for parents to not only opt-out if they so choose, but it also encourages them to open up conversations about sex education with their children. 

I could easily wish for comprehensive sex education for all, but I know that is not realistic. At this point, students need to have their sex education safeguarded, except in cases where their guardian decides otherwise. 

If you oppose Bill 410 and want sex education in Florida to remain opt-out, please contact your local state representatives and legislators.

The opinions on this page do not necessarily reflect those of The Sandspur or Rollins College.

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