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Parents can now opt their children out of sex education in Polk County public schools

Frederick Heid
Polk County Public Schools
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At the meeting, Superintendent Frederick Heid said the notification system helps parents stay informed.

Going forward, parents will be notified a week before these lessons and can pull their student out of discussions on certain subjects — or the whole lesson

For many, sex ed classes in middle and high school are uncomfortable experiences, but mark a right of passage in growing up. But some parents say they would prefer their children learn these lessons from them.

Now, Polk County Public Schools will allow parents to opt their child out of sexual education.

School board members unanimously approved the new curriculum on reproductive health at the Jan. 25 meeting.

Going forward, parents will be notified a week before these lessons and can pull their student out of discussions on certain subjects — or the whole lesson. The board also approved other changes, including adjustments to what grade level students start learning about HIV and AIDS.

At the meeting, Superintendent Frederick Heid said the notification system helps parents stay informed.

"What I like about it is even if you opt out, you know what topics are being discussed and they have the opportunity to discuss these topics at home with their child knowing full well that when their child returns to school on the subsequent day those topics will be discussed amongst the children,” he said. “Also for those who are opting in, same thing."

He said students might feel too shy to bring up some of these topics, adding, “What a powerful opportunity to open up the dialogue in case that child has questions without the child having to be the initiator for the dialogue.”

Some community members said the ability to remove students could keep them from learning critical information.

Doctor Katherine Sutherland, an OBGYN, told the board that students need comprehensive sex ed — or they might ask friends or find different advice that may be wrong.

She says students often don't want to discuss sex with parents, and adds that parents can sometimes give biased, or wrong, information.

"So, adolescents really need trusted professionals — teachers, counselors, health care people — to help them with these decisions. I would say let's empower our students with comprehensive sexual ed so that they can make informed and safe choices as they mature.”

Gloria Monasmith, a Lakeland resident, said the curriculum is vital. She told the meeting her work in Polk County serving children has highlighted the importance of making sure children have sex ed.

"This school system serves over 110,000 children, and I know as a matter of professional experience, both as a DCF worker in the past and currently a mental health professional here in Polk County, that not all parents are capable or even want to share this very necessary information to our kids," she said

Monasmith says she respects that some parents would rather explain these difficult lessons to their children, but that some will not.

Polk County's curriculum review committee will meet again during the summer for a closer look at the district's sex ed materials.

Bailey LeFever is a reporter focusing on education and health in the greater Tampa Bay region.