Parents of Florida Keys public school students will have the option to opt their child out of a new sex education curriculum that for the first time will include discussion of contraceptive options.
The new programming is made possible by a $600,000, three-year grant from the federal Department of Health and Human Services and administered locally by Womankind in partnership with the Monroe County School District.
Established in 2001, the nonprofit Key West-based Womankind provides affordable access to woman's primary, gynecological and mental healthcare.
Formerly, sex education in the Keys taught abstinence as the only way to avoid pregnancy or contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
As teacher training is completed, the new curriculum will become available to students in grades six through 10 in 15 schools countywide.
Kim Romano, executive director of Womankind, called the grant a "dream come true" and stressed the need in the Keys to combat the increasing spread of STDs among teens.
Superintendent Mark Porter lauded the collaborative effort: "It was insightful to recognize that too often schools are the captive audience and people look to us to do certain things but there isn't that necessary support to make it successful."
School Board Chairman John Dick, a critic of short-term grants that leave the district on the hook after funding stops, said that wouldn't be the case here.
"The money is used to teach the teachers," he said. "Once they know the material, they know it. It can be continued on just by teaching" other colleagues.
During a Wednesday grant announcement at Womankind's Key West office, Dick arrived to find a bowl of condoms in his seat.
He drew laughter remarking, "I'm going to make sure these always stay in the Womankind office and never make their way into the schools. To be abstinent is the best way. That's the one you've got to push the most."
Individual schools have the ability to decide which staffers will attend training and later teach the classes. The money also pays for two employees, a program coordinator to arrange training sessions and a program manager to monitor implementation.
Sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders will receive instruction called Draw the Line/Respect the Line designed to postpone sexual activity and encourage condom use.
Ninth- and 10th-graders will go through the Safer Choices curriculum, which continues the message of the earlier program while adding information about the prevention of HIV, other STDs, teen pregnancy and sexual decision making.