Controversial legislation sparks sex education debate

Sex education in schools needs an upgrade
Photo Credit: neaToday

In a move that has sparked debate and concerns about potential implications, the state of Florida is considering House Bill 1135, an act relating to lewd or lascivious grooming. The bill, if enacted, would introduce a new offense, criminalizing what it terms as “lewd or lascivious grooming” and impose significant penalties on those found guilty.

The bill defines “inappropriate communication or conduct” as any verbal, written or electronic communication or action in which a person expresses, depicts or demonstrates sexual behavior or excitement. The offense primarily targets anyone aged 18 and up who engages in unlawful speech or behavior directed at someone under the age of 16. The purpose of the interaction or behavior should be to prepare, persuade or lure the minor into engaging in illicit sexual activity, sexual conduct, or sexual performance.

The bill defines lewd or lascivious grooming as a third-degree crime. Individuals found guilty may face consequences under existing statutes, including imprisonment. The bill changes the Criminal Punishment Code to classify the offense as Level 3 on the severity rating table.

While the bill aims to address concerns related to inappropriate communication with minors, its broad language and categorization may have unintended consequences. One major concern is the potential impact on educational settings.

If enacted, the bill could criminalize certain conversations within the realm of sex education, reproductive health and development courses in Florida public schools.

Educators are bound by a code of ethics. Therefore, they are obligated to abide by the professional code of conduct for professional educators.

Sarah L. Price, dean of the College of Education at Florida A&M University, explained that people who complete the program are required to demonstrate their understanding of Florida’s Professional Code of Conduct.

“Teaching is the most noble profession,” Price said.

“Educators take pride in making sure K-12 learners are protected by following the Florida Principles of Professional Conduct for the Education Profession.”

Parents have expressed varying perspectives and attitudes about the topic. While some parents are comfortable taking on the responsibility of teaching their children about sex and development, others believe that having authoritative individuals who are specifically trained in education are better qualified for the job.

Sarah Shivar, mother of an 8-year-old second grader, says she prefers to teach her child about reproduction herself by the means of his age.

“We monitor TV, we monitor movies, anything because now especially at his age we don’t want him to misunderstand or be exposed to things he’s too small for,” Shivar said.

“If he has questions like, where [do] babies come from, things like that, I talk to him myself per his age per what he needs to know.”

Samuel Willis, father of a 16-year-old eleventh grader, says sex education should be taught in schools as early as fourth or fifth grade.

“I think at that point we’re not being open to what’s really happening in school that kids have already discussed or had some idea of what they believe sex to be,” Willis said.

“There should be some baseline amount of knowledge that’s being shared with kids so they understand, the male and female reproductive organs, what’s normal in terms of development and there’s real knowledge being passed by authoritative figures. I’m fine with that.”

As the bill progresses through the legislative process, it remains to be seen how stakeholders, including educators, lawmakers, and the public, will navigate the delicate balance between protecting minors and preserving educational freedoms. The outcome of this legislation could significantly shape the landscape of sexual education and communication in Florida.

HB 1135 is co-sponsored by Republicans Michael  Yarkosky of Montverde and Doug Bankson of Apopka. It was scheduled to be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.