Checking Up on Health Education the Comprehensive Curriculum to Teach Duval County Students about Their Bodies Is Settling in the Classroom with Little Controversy
MacDonald, Mary, The Florida Times Union
The subject matter of the day, date rape, was written on the
That morning 30 high school students would consider sexual
pressure, perceptions of behavior, choice of clothing, locker
room bravado and the effects of drinking alcohol.
The class, Personal, Social and Family Relationships, is
required for all 11th-graders and serves as the final
installment of comprehensive health education in Duval County.
It includes some of the most controversial lessons taught in
public schools: sexual harassment, divorce, domestic violence,
In 1996, when the Duval County School Board adopted a
comprehensive curriculum to educate students about their bodies,
social pressures and relationships, years of hand-wringing came
to an end.
At the time, critics alternately labeled the curriculum ungodly
or overly meek. But a year after the changes took effect, little
criticism is heard.
Although school surveys have not been collected, informal
counts indicate few parents exercised their right last year to
remove their children from the reproductive health and
AIDS-related instruction, said Kathy Bowles, Jacksonville
schools' supervisor of health education.
The curriculum is abstinence-based, but it includes discussion
of the use of contraceptives, an element that was lacking in the
previous health education plan taught in Duval County.
The School Board scrapped the seventh-grade program,
"Teen-Aid," four years after Planned Parenthood of Northeast
Florida and seven Jacksonville families filed a lawsuit, in
which it was argued the curriculum provided incomplete or
inaccurate information to students.
Because it offers instruction at all grade levels and because
it provides students with information that they previously were
not shown, the curriculum is more effective, said Cheryl Seaton,
health teacher at Terry Parker High School and president of an
organization for health teachers.
"This is more comprehensive," she said. "It covers much more
than just the sexuality issues." It also provides for more
interaction with parents. Several exercises are completed by
students asking their parents questions.
The first evaluation of the new curriculum will come this
school year when students in five grades are tested to determine
their knowledge of health issues, Bowles said.
But the success of the new approach is not tied directly to
decreases in pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease rates. In
fact, that data is not tracked by the school system.
The data, compiled by several Jacksonville organizations, shows
reports of some sexually transmitted diseases among teens
dropped last year, the first year of the new curriculum. Others
Live births to mothers age 19 and younger increased in 1996,
from 1,697 to 1,756.
Gonorrhea increased in the fiscal year ending June 30, from 714
diagnosed cases to 795, while cases of early syphilis and
chlamydia among teenagers dropped slightly.
Most of the health education program began last year, but the
11th-grade course on relationships was initiated this year. It
is supposed to be offered at all high schools, but school system
officials have not yet determined whether budget cuts forced the
reassignment of health teachers.
At Terry Parker High School in Arlington, where some students
said they are accustomed to seeing pregnant classmates, the
course is handled with diplomacy. …