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Sex Education In Hillsborough County: To Teach Or Not To Teach?

Five panelists discussed the pros and cons of sex education in Hillsborough County Schools at The Cuban Club in Ybor City.
Erin O'Brien
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

With the Florida Department of Health reporting a significant increase in the number of sexually transmitted diseases cases, some are calling for sex education reform.

Hillsborough County is one of 15 Florida districts that agreed to implement a comprehensive sex education system two years ago. This means that during classes, students learn not only about abstinence, but also safe sex practices. 

“We really have designed a curriculum that's free of scare or shame tactics,”said Ashlee Cappucci, physical education supervisor for Hillsborough County Schools.

On Friday, she was joined by panelists from both sides of the issue, discussing the future of sex education in the district at a Tampa Tiger Bay Club luncheon.

Among the speakers were Planned Parenthood outreach educator Paola Ferst and Community Issues Council president Terry Kemple.

Ferst often works with at-risk youth in juvenile detention centers and alternative schools. She said she teaches sex education because she wants to give young people the information her generation lacked while growing up.

“There was no sex education and we are failing our young people because young people deserve honest, accurate information, so they can make better decisions about their bodies and relationships,” said Ferst. “All youth are at risk for sexual assault, pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and they all deserve to feel safe, supported and get the information that they deserve. It's imperative.”

Kemple argued that there are two choices when it comes to sex education: abstinence-only or the current curriculum Hillsborough is testing that covers both abstinence and safe sex. He said offering the latter could steer students into gateway behaviors, such as violence, smoking and drug use.

“We've got programs that are available that actually elevate not having sex,” he said, “having a better future romance, a better future marriage, a better future for your children. Because by not having sex, you're not falling into those risk behaviors.”

The curriculum is currently being tested in five Hillsborough County High Schools and will be rolled out to a number of middle schools in the spring. The program will then be evaluated before possibly being taught districtwide.

To watch the entire Tampa Tiger Bay forum, click here.

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Erin O’Brien is a WUSF/USF Zimmerman School digital news intern for summer 2019.