TAMPA. Fla. With sexually transmitted diseases on the rise in Florida and in the Tampa Bay area, the Hillsborough County School District has updated its sexual education curriculum for the first time in more than a decade.

  • Hillsborough County School District updates sexual education curriculum
  • Curriculum focuses on abstinence, healthy relationships and contraception
  • Some want abstinence-only education

It comes after a committee made up of around 100 students, parents, teachers, medical professionals, district staff and community members met over the past year to review the curriculum. District officials say the curriculum focuses on abstinence, healthy relationships, and contraception.

In a lunchtime forum hosted by the Tampa Bay Tiger Club at the Cuban Club on Friday, supporters of a comprehensive sex education curriculum discussed the benefits of such a program. Conservative activist Terry Kemple was in sharp disagreement, saying an abstinence-only curriculum works.

Currently, only ninth-grade teachers in five high schools in Hillsborough are teaching the new curriculum. Eighth-grade teachers in eight middle schools will soon join them, before it expands district-wide in those two grades.

Ashlee Cappucci, who supervises health for the Hillsborough County School District, said a survey developed by the Centers for Disease Control was distributed to students at 27 high schools in the past year that confirmed for school district leaders that more sex education was required.

“Students are reporting that they are sexually active. They are reporting that they are using contraceptives, and so those numbers were high enough for us to say, ‘Do they know the correct information about those behaviors? Are they using them correctly?’” Cappucci said.

But Kemple said the new curriculum violated the Hillsborough County School Board’s own policy. He said the policy states that the health education curriculum should be evidence-based and proven effective.

“This is a new curriculum that has never been tried,” Kemple said. ”Even if you piece together tested parts, they have never been tested as a whole. It is not proven effective.”

But parents who object to their children hearing sex education information have the ability to opt-out, Cappucci said. And if instructors themselves are uneasy about teaching the material, they can inform school officials to have them “co-teach” the information or even have them take over those portions of the instruction.

Paola Ferst, the outreach educator and community liaison for Planned Parenthood in Sarasota and Manatee counties, stressed that sex education is as much about relationships and self-esteem as it is about sex. Ferst said she didn’t understand the pushback arguing against giving youth more information.

“The science is showing that when young people have information, they are going to make better decisions about their bodies. It’s really that simple,” Ferst said. “That’s what the research is showing.”

In response to a question from the audience about what value is sex education teaching children, Linsey Grove, a USF-St. Petersburg visiting professor in Health Sciences, said it provided “the skills and tools to be able to create boundaries” and served as a “platform for empathy.” 

This is the first time the Hillsborough County School District has updated its sex education curriculum since 2007.