Brevard County, FL
Parents in Brevard County are advocating for a more comprehensive approach to sexuality education in their school district. They also want to ban the current abstinence-only-until-marriage program provider, First Defense, from teaching in the schools.
First Defense is a Melbourne-based nonprofit which claims its “lessons [are] rooted in keeping students healthy emotionally, physically, and socially.” The federal government has awarded First Defense a three-year grant that allows it to provide free abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in area schools.1
Despite the fact that the program is free, many parents in Brevard County don’t want it. One father stated, “Our health education classes are not teaching (students) how to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and how to avoid pregnancy. As a father of two daughters, believe me, I’m all in favor of abstinence.” He continued by expressing the need for a new program that “acknowledges the reality that 50 percent of high school students are sexually active.”2
Parents critical of the program say it uses medically inaccurate information (claiming, for example, that condoms have a failure rate of 15% while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that there is a 2% failure rate) and “old-fashioned scare tactics.” Parents also say that the program is riddled with gender stereotypes, such as the claim that boys commonly lie about love to get girls to have sex with them, which are “insulting” and unfounded.3
“There’s more to it than just boys are animals and girls have to learn to say no,” said one mother of a 14-year old daughter. Some school board members seem to agree that young people need more, “We want to teach kids not to have sex, that that’s the right thing to do, but also give them enough information to protect themselves should they choose another decision.” Students also agree, “I think abstinence is good,” one student in the district said, “But if we don't have the full information, how can we make the choice?”4
Not everyone in the district, however, believes that sexuality education should include information on safer sex practices. “We don’t facilitate poor choices by teaching safer drug abuse methods, or safer ways to drink and drive, or we don’t suggest how to simply minimize the risks of cheating,” he stated. “Neither should we facilitate sexual activity by instructing teens in safer sex practices.”5
The founder and director of First Defense is also opposed to a safer sex message, “Kids don’t need another resource about how to be sexually active. They can get that message anywhere.”6
School districts in Florida are mandated to teach HIV/AIDS education but have discretion when deciding how much information to include about contraception. Administrators in Brevard have explicitly said that while the main focus of the district’s programs will continue to be abstinence, they would like to see what other groups are able to provide. In response to parents’ complaints, administrators have put together a 15-member advisory committee that includes teachers, principals, other school administrators, and parents, and scheduled a forum for discussion.
SIECUS will continue to monitor this situation.
- Kate Brennan, “Ban abstinence-only group, parents say,” FloridaToday.com, 15 June 2007, accessed 18 June 2007, <www.floridatoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070615/NEWS01/706150353/1006>.