Faced With Record HIV Rates, This Florida School District Is Pushing To Expand Sex Ed

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Broward County, Florida has one of the highest rates of HIV in the country — and the epidemic has been getting worse. Last year, new HIV cases in the region rose by 25 percent. Nonetheless, kids aren’t necessarily learning about it in school. A recent survey found that 13 percent of high schoolers said they were never taught about HIV or AIDS in the classroom.

The local school district hopes to change that. Broward County officials are pushing to update schools’ sex ed requirements so that students in every grade will receive comprehensive information about preventing the spread of sexually transmitted infections. There will be a public hearing on the issue next month, and the school board will vote on it in 2014.

“Our hope is to ensure schools start talking about [sexual health] often, that students are not getting a hodgepodge and that sex education is more consistent,” Amalio Nieves, the director of diversity outreach and prevention for the school district, explained to the Sun Sentinel.

Right now, sex education isn’t mandatory in Broward. When it’s offered, it’s typically taught in science or health classes, and the lack of educational standards make it difficult for school district officials to figure out exactly what’s being covered. But they suspect it’s pretty outdated. The Sun Sentinel reports that the current curriculum is more than a decade years old, teaches about outdated birth control methods, and doesn’t mention new medical advances like the HPV vaccine.

Under the proposed curriculum change, schools in the district will be required to submit annual reports detailing their sex ed classes, a move that will allow Broward officials to evaluate the effectiveness of the instruction. “A key piece to the policy is having accountability,” Nieves noted.

The situation in Broward County isn’t unique. Nationwide, HIV infections are most concentrated in the regions of the country where students aren’t learning about it in school. Just 20 states currently mandate both sex education and HIV education — and even in those areas, there’s no guarantee those course are adhering to medically accurate standards.

Although the nation has made considerable progress combating the HIV epidemic, federal health officials have warned that young Americans continue to put themselves at risk for contracting the virus. But some young people are tying to change that. For instance, one HIV-positive woman in Nebraska who didn’t believe she was at risk — she thought only “junkies and prostitutes got HIV” — has been urging her own lawmakers to update comprehensive sex ed standards so that other kids won’t grow up to be as naive as she was.