The House has moved forward with a bill increasing parental consent regarding a student’s education on sexually transmitted diseases.
But the House Education and Employment Committee stripped the strongest language in the bill, which would have required written consent from parents beforehand.
The measure (HB 545), which the committee approved 18-2, is being fronted by Republican Rep. Linda Chaney.
Current law allows parents to opt their child out of the STD curriculum by providing a written request to the school. Absent such a request, the student would go through that education.
Chaney’s original bill sought to flip that default position. That is, a child would not undergo the instruction unless his or her parent first chose to opt into the curriculum.
But Tuesday’s hearing saw that latter language removed. The bill does strengthen parental notification requirements, but does not mandate a written letter before the instruction.
Parents can still withdraw a student from the STD instruction. Chaney’s measure now requires parents to be informed of that right “through publication on the district’s website homepage of the curriculum and materials.” That process must be explained to parents, giving them a chance to opt out.
That change garnered bipartisan approval Thursday.
“I wish I had had an opportunity to see the curriculum that was being taught,” said Democratic Rep. Christine Hunschofsky. “As far as I’m concerned, this is a great bill because it is giving parents choices, and it is giving parents transparency. How do I know whether to opt in or out if I don’t even know the curriculum that is being taught.”
“I personally agree with the opt-out,” added Republican Rep. Amber Mariano. “I think that’s the way to go for those children who do not have involved parents, still have a way for them to get this education. Where I think the core of the problem is is the material. And I think what needs to happen is we need to have some type of streamlined material coming from [the Department of Education] approved at the state level and just consistent across the board.”
Mariano pitched working on that issue in the next Legislative Session.
But that didn’t satisfy several parents and groups looking for reform. Multiple organizations such as the Christian Family Coalition and Florida Citizens Alliance originally approved of the bill but spoke in opposition on Thursday. Those parents and organizations argued an opt-in clause was necessary to give parents the full authority as to whether their children receive instruction on sex education.
“Opt in says the parents are in charge. Opt out says the government is in charge,” said Keith Flaugh, the group’s director.
Chaney defended the change as a compromise during Thursday’s committee meeting.
“I agree with you, opt in is a better option. However, I do not have confidence that the Senate would agree with us. And I’m not willing to lose this bill over that,” Chaney said.
Several Republican committee members said they would support an opt-in requirement, but nevertheless argued the bill in its current form was a step forward. And Republican Rep. Alex Andrade disagreed with those groups who expressed ire for the current bill.
“You came and you kind of vilified a very caring panel of members who all agree with you about what’s going on in schools and the concerns parents should have,” he told those who spoke in opposition.
“There’s no reliable mechanism for you to be fully informed about what your child is learning until this bill passes. You need this bill in order to have as much information as possible to make the best decision for your family that you can.”
Chaney’s bill also requires school districts to review and approve STD education materials annually. School districts would also be required to notify parents of those annual meetings where the curriculum will be discussed and approved.
“It is my hope that requiring school boards to vote on specific sex [education] materials — specific materials, not broad statements about curriculum — in a public meeting that parents will be more aware of what’s going on in the classroom and their school board,” Chaney said.
“I believe this bill takes us in the right direction.”
The News Service of Florida contributed to this post. Republished with permission.