A new bill moving through the Florida Legislature is causing controversy due to its restrictions on sexual health education for elementary school students.
Republican Rep. Stan McClain, the sponsor of House Bill 1069, proposes that instruction on human sexuality, sexually transmitted diseases and other related topics may only occur in grades 6 – 12. One topic that would be banned from the discussion is puberty, leaving critics baffled and concerned about the bill’s intent.
The proposal has been dubbed the “Don’t Say Period” bill after McClain told Democratic Rep. Ashley Gantt that menstrual cycle education would be prohibited in a committee meeting. “So if little girls experience their menstrual cycle in fifth grade or fourth grade, will that prohibit conversations from them since they are in a grade lower than sixth grade?” asked Gantt, a former Miami-Dade school teacher.
“It would,” McClain answered quickly. Gantt noted that young girls may experience menstruation as young as 10. According to Mayo Clinic, young girls may experience puberty as young as age 8 and boys at age 9.
According to the Child Mind Institute, the average age for puberty in the United States is declining. Initially, it was age 11 for girls and age 12 for boys until recent years. With the age range dropping, this results in far more elementary students experiencing pubescence.
John Robinson, a Gilchrist Elementary OTS Student Assistant, said the implementation of the bill would cause more harm than good for students.
“It would have a negative impact,” Robinson said. “The less information kids receive about sexual education and natural changes in their body will make them feel alone and uneasy.”
According to the National Library of Medicine, research indicates that early puberty can cause emotional distress and increase the risks for mental health issues like anxiety, depression or body dysmorphia.
DeAmber Johnson, a Gilchrest OTS Student Assistant, disagrees with the bill as she said students will be deprived of necessary support and education.
“HB 1069 will harm the school system in my eyes,” Johnson said. “Things have changed and kids are developing quicker now. Yes, kids should be taught these things at home; But kids spend more hours in school than at home. Taking those resources is a bigger issue than one can imagine.”
Johnson knows firsthand the experience of beginning puberty before most as a child and how she coped with the sudden change.
McClain’s proposal aims to provide parents more control over the topics their children intake at school. However, some critics of the bill point out that there are students who do not have the opportunity to receive support and education of pubertal changes at home.
Gantt expressed concern whether teachers could face consequences for discussing such prohibited topics, but McClain informed her “that would not be the intent” of the bill. He stated his intent is to bring consistency to sex education through Florida’s education system and provide parents more opportunities to be involved in educational material they don’t deem necessary.
Rep. McClain later said that he would be open to modifying the language of the bill as he does not seek to punish little girls with the proposal. The bill went through a recent vote of 77-35, moving closer to becoming a law. If Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signs the bill into law, it shall take effect across the entire state of Florida on July 3, 2023.