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Petitioners object to Hillsborough schools sex ed curriculum before judge

The hearing follows after the school board approved lesson plans this past September.

TAMPA, Fla. — After objections over the approved sex education curriculum during a September school board meeting, those who oppose got the chance to raise their concerns before a judge on Thursday.

Hillsborough County Public Schools held a public hearing in response to opposition raised from more than 3,000 petitions filed. Although, some appear to be duplicated with the same name.

The concerns centered around sexual education curriculum for seventh graders.

"In certain places, it is reprehensible," one parent said.

This past September, school board members voted 5-2 to approve lesson plans that included sex ed for seventh, eighth and ninth graders. 

Because petitions objecting it were submitted, a hearing was held before Honorable Claudia Isom, who served as the hearing officer and is not employed with the school district. 

In the petition, parents raised concerns including the exposure of different sex acts to seventh graders.

In addition, parents also raised concern over images of sexual and reproductive anatomy being too graphic for students – including a link to video resources from AMAZE, which provides sexual education content, which petitioners also find inappropriate.

RELATED: Sex education curriculum approved for Hillsborough County students

Concerns were also raised about the promotion of gender identity in schools. Overall, there wasn't enough mention of abstinence, some told the judge.

In response, Jeff Gibson, the attorney representing the school district, defended the district's curriculum before the judge arguing that it's in compliance with state law. 

Gibson said nothing was added to the plans from last year. If anything, only removed, because of new state education laws passed this year.

"Things were removed, nothing was added. Let me put it that way," Gibson responded when asked about differences from last year's curriculum.

Gibson addressed claims listed with Ashlee Cappucci, a supervisor for physical and health education. 

RELATED: State to create 'Florida-specific' behavioral health survey for students: What this means

Cappucci stated while AMAZE was used, it doesn't include graphic videos that petitioners raised concerns about. 

Neither gender identity is being instructed toward students and abstinence is being taught, the district argued. 

School board members who voted in favor of the plan and others who supported it publicly argue hearing from experts is important. The curriculum contains information about reproductive health and disease prevention. 

Parents still have the option for their child to not sit through the courses by opting out. Opt-out forms for parents are available on the board’s website.

No decision was made Thursday but Isom will write a recommendation and bring it forth to the school board for review.

School board members are aiming to have that ready for a vote during its next board meeting sometime in December.

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