Sex-education policy will be revised for Broward schools due to new state law

Orlando Sentinel | By Shira Molten | January 30, 2023

The Broward School Board has agreed to revise its sexual education policy, in order to comply with Florida’s new Parental Rights in Education law, known to critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

School district officials said that sections of the Family Life and Human Sexuality policy, or Policy 5315, will likely need to be changed in order to align with the section of the state law that forbids instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3 or “or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

“If the Board decides they want to do a revision, I think we probably have to take a look at it,” said John Sullivan, chief communications and legislative affairs officer for the district, at a workshop Tuesday. “I think there probably are some areas you probably, arguably have to revise.”

The district had originally proposed repealing the entire policy at Tuesday’s workshop, but multiple board members protested and voted to revise it instead.

School officials said they suggested the repeal to ensure they complied with a state requirement that school boards to approve their district’s sex education curriculum each year.

At Tuesday’s meeting, officials pointed to sections of the district policy that reference K-4 and K-12 education, as well as the National Sexuality Education Standards, a guide that sets minimum standards for sex education across the United States, as examples of what they believe may violate the bill, officially titled House Bill 1557.

The district is now at work revising the policy, but it remains unclear what within those sections demands revision. The policy, last revised for the 2014/15 school year, does not mention sexual orientation or gender identity.

What will change?

During the workshop discussion Tuesday, School Board member Sarah Leonardi asked the district’s General Council, Marylin Batista, if the policy, as it stands, violates state law.

Batista said she didn’t think so.

“When I read it, it did not strike me that it was anything in violation,” she said, but she suggested the district “might want to review standards and come up with a new rule that more aligns with [House Bill] 1557.”

Leonardi then directed the same question to school district staff.

Veda Hudge, the district’s executive director of student services, pointed to two sections of the policy that may require revision.

The first section reads, “In grades K-4, the foundational comprehensive sexual health education instruction is comprised of lessons on the following four topic areas specific in the National Sexuality Education Standards: anatomy, physiology, reproduction, healthy relationships and personal safety. All lessons and content will reflect the age and development of students at each grade level.”

Hudge said the reference to grades K-4 could present an issue, given the new restrictions on K-3 instruction in the state law.

“We are concerned about National Sexuality Education Standards, and we felt that needed to be more aligned to the Florida standards,” Hudge said, “and that may open the door for further question as to whether we’re in violation because of the national standards.”

The National Sexuality Education Standards topic areas referenced in the policy do not say anything about teaching sexual orientation or gender identity to K-3 students.

For grades K-2, the “Healthy Relationships” topic area suggests teaching students to “identify different kinds of family structures” and “demonstrate ways to show respect for different types of families.”

It is unclear if this is one of the items in the national standards that district officials believe may violate Florida standards. The school district did not respond to a question seeking the information Friday.

The national standards do include an “identity” topic area that recommends teaching students about sexual orientation by the end of fifth grade, but the school district policy does not include that topic area.

When Leonardi asked if the district had identified any other sections that may violate state law, Hudge pointed to a paragraph later on in the policy which reads, “Schools shall provide comprehensive, medically accurate, developmentally appropriate grade and age appropriate sexual health education for all students in grade K-12 as part of their courses or programs.”

That section, Hudge said, could present an issue because of the reference to grades K-12.

“Again, House Bill 1557 talks about in grades K-3,” she said. “… So in places where we have that K-12, looking at that K-3 could potentially cross over into House Bill 1557.”

The school district did not respond to questions Friday about what within the two sections Hudge mentioned might conflict with the bill.

Asked Friday if she had received any further clarification on what the district plans to change, Leonardi said she had not.

She worried that the section of House Bill 1557 prohibiting instruction “in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students” is ambiguous, leading the school district to “over-comply” when interpreting it.

“I’m afraid of us going far past what the state requires, what the language in the bills require,” Leonardi said. “And I would like a lot more clarity on how the policy will be revised.”

The state may still add or expand its current limits on instruction. House Bill 1557 requires that the Florida Department of Education review and update the requirements “as necessary” by the end of June.

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