Lee County School Board members decided that the community should have a voice in a health plan that they believe should be implemented district wide for every grade level before a policy is put into place.
At a meeting Tuesday afternoon, Board Chairman Mary Fischer led the discussion with board members regarding the comprehensive health education plan. She said that the Lee County School District received a silver level status for a Florida healthy status school district, which means there is a high level of commitment to meeting the needs of students and staff in order to remove barriers of learning.
District Lead Teacher for Comprehensive Health Education Leisha Roy said currently there is only a course requirement at the high school level in the form of HOPE (Health Opportunities Through Physical Education) that is implemented.
She told the board that comprehensive health education is a state requirement for all students.
"Without a mandated course requirement, we must determine if we, as a district, are currently in compliance with this statute," Roy said. "We need to know if all schools are teaching the mandated material in the New Generation Sunshine State Standards for Health Education and are successfully following grade level course descriptions."
The plan covers such topics as nutrition, mental/emotional health, safety, drug abuse prevention, sexuality education and disease prevention as well as other topics.
Roy expressed that she found it hard to believe that any of those subject matters could be taught in one shot.
"Just knowing what is good and bad is not enough," she said. "Students need to develop the skills necessary to make good decisions."
She said the middle school academic plans for health were completed during the 2010-2011 school year and this past spring work on the elementary academic plan began.
Neryda Green, with the Lee County Health Department, made a presentation regarding statistics from STDs in Lee County youth and youth pregnancy. She said sexually active youth who are between the ages of 15-24 years old have the highest STD rates of any group and half of all sexually-active young people will become infected with an STD.
The topic of STDs was important to discuss, Green said, because if gone untreated it can have detrimental consequences on the public health system.
There were 817 cases in youth between the ages of 10-19. There were 668 cases of chlamydia, 143 cases of gonorrhea and 143 cases of syphilis, which was 47.3 percent.
"There is a problem in Lee County," Green said.
Teen pregnancy was another topic discussed, specifically those between the ages of 15-19 years old during 2008-2010.
During that time frame the study included 48,547 females. For those between the ages of 16-19, the actual number of mothers was 1,994. The expected number of births between those ages was 1,794.
Green said they were red flagged by the CDC in the teen birth rates.
The repeat birth rates for mothers between the ages of 16-19 during 2008-2010 was 409.
Just within the Lee County Health Department Family Planning Youth Clinic, 830 females were seen.
Board member Thomas Scott said it is frightening to see the statistics, especially in the minority population where the number was elevated.
"This is a big problem bigger than the five people sitting up here," he said. "I accept it as a community-wide responsibility. It is going to be a never-ending problem if we don't get our arms around it now."
Superintendent Dr. Joseph Burke said staff is looking into the development of a policy that the board would need to adopt to enable the district to move forward with the Comprehensive Health Education Plan.
Fischer agreed that the appropriate staff needs to take a look at the plan and come up with a policy that the district can create to make sure the students in Lee County are getting the best education.
Since there is sensitivity to some of the topics, Burke said that is the main reason to bring a policy to the board to enable the district to put these topics into the curriculum as part of the k-12 program.
"We hope to bring a policy to the board within the next couple of months," Burke said.
Many of the board members agreed that the plan discusses a sensitive topic.
Board member Jane Kuckel said she would be hesitant bringing something to the board that made sense to them and get backlash from parents because they were not included in the discussion.
"It is a sensitive topic for us to make changes," she said. "Let's not get a head of the game."
Kuckel said although she thinks the district needs to move in that direction, without the support of the parents it will not happen.
Board member Jeanne Dozier told her fellow board members that it was important to get as many people involved in the process as possible.
"Communication is the key in anything that you do," she said. "Anything you change you have to communicate."
Fischer believes that a lot of the community is already involved in the issues presented.
"It is almost that we are the last stop with this," she said. "I think that we have a captive audience."