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Over 3K petition against school district's sex ed curriculum; parents object at hearing

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Over two dozen Florida parents spent hours voicing objections to a school district's sex education curriculum for middle schoolers during an independent hearing after over 3,000 petitions were filed urging the school board to reconsider the recently passed curriculum.  

The Hillsborough County School Board held an independent hearing Thursday after over 3,079 petitions were filed from opponents who feel the sex ed curriculum passed in September is inappropriate.

A copy of the petition shared by Bay News 9 reporter Angie Angers lists several complaints about the seventh-grade curriculum, including graphic drawings of genitalia to be discussed in coed groups, the inclusion of links to an organization that connects students to Planned Parenthood for abstinence advice and "training for teachers to lead students into gender confusion." 

"Consent is covered in a way that would lead 12-year-olds to believe that they can both give [and] receive consent to engage in sexual intercourse," the complaint states. "Under Florida law, 12-year-olds can't consent to sex."

The goal of the curriculum is to provide "consistent and medically accurate information when it comes to reproductive health and disease prevention."

As The Tampa Bay Times reported, parents expressed concerns during a hearing before retired judge Claudia Isom, urging her to recommend the board alter the lesson plans. 

Opponents noted that Florida law requires a school's sex education material for sixth to 12th grade to include lessons about abstinence. The school district contends that abstinence education is included in the curriculum. 

Parents note that the material incorporates a direct link to amaze.org, a digital sex education site that includes videos about sexual anatomy that they say is "too graphic" for 12-year-olds. They also say some videos on the platform teach about gender identity and sexuality. 

The parents also say the curriculum pre-questionnaire "introduces sex acts" that some 12-year-olds might not be familiar with. 

Kathleen Brown, a speaker who does not have children in the grade levels the curriculum is taught, objected on the grounds that children are "innocent."

"Our seventh graders are 12-year-olds. Our 12-year-olds should be innocent children. They should not be exposed to this material," Brown said, according to The Times. 

Another speaker, Cody Powell, objected to teaching students there are more than two genders, arguing that such lessons are not scientifically accurate. 

"That is completely false," he said. "Gender is not on a spectrum like autism. There are two genders, male and female."

The Hillsborough County School Board did not immediately respond to The Christian Post's request for comment. 

School district lawyer Jeff Gibson responded to the criticisms, saying the district follows state mandates on health education and that parents were given time to review and speak against the curriculum before it was passed. 

He added that the board adopted similar content last year without pushback and that this year's curriculum contains fewer references to gender identity and sexuality than the previous one. 

Health education supervisor Ashlee Cappucci said abstinence is featured in sex education lessons 13 different times, adding that it is the most effective way of preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. 

Regarding concerns about instruction on gender identity, Cappucci said the curriculum only refers to two genders, male and female. While she acknowledged that the curriculum uses videos from amaze.org, the content used in lessons are not the controversial ones highlighted by the speakers. 

After advocates for the district spoke, those opposed to the curriculum had another chance to speak. 

In September, Hillsborough County School District Director of Media and Public Relations Erin Maloney said in a statement shared with Bay News 9 that the curriculum "was developed in accordance with new legislation, Board policy, and state standards."

"Our district promotes abstinence as the first expected standard while also teaching them about healthy decision-making skills," Maloney said. "Our curriculum fosters communication with parents and guardians to help continue the conversation at home."

The board will review Isom's written recommendations on Dec. 20. According to The Tampa Bay Times, the review date is tentative and could be subject to change.

In July, another Florida school district rejected two sex education textbooks for middle school and high school students after parents protested. 

The Miami-Dade County School Board reversed its initial decision to adopt the textbooks, Comprehensive Health Skills for Middle School and Comprehensive Health Skills for High School for the 2022-2023 school year. 

Parents opposed to the content claimed the material about gender identity and sexuality violated the state's "Parental Rights in Education Act." 

The law prohibits schools from teaching lessons on gender identity and sexual orientation from kindergarten through third grade. Under the law, schools must also inform parents about relevant changes to their child's well-being. 

Kat Duesterhaus, a board member of the Florida National Organization for Women and the Miami Coalition to Advance Racial Equity, voiced her displeasure with the decision in a statement to The Miami Herald

"We need to equip youth with the ability to navigate their own bodies and consensual situations," Duesterhaus said. "We're leaving them ill-equipped to have agency of their sexuality and bodies."

Meg Kilgannon, the senior fellow for education studies at the socially conservative organization Family Research Council, disagreed.

"Each individual parent is an expert on their child and what their child is ready to know in terms of where they are in their maturity level to handle that kind of information," Kilgannon told CP in July. 

"And there is nothing to stop the parents who have no problem with that curriculum from teaching those things to their children right now," she added. "With or without that book, they are free to do that. But they absolutely cannot impose it on my child in a classroom setting."

Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: samantha.kamman@christianpost.com.

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