It wouldn’t be unusual for a girl to have her first ever menstrual period while she’s in fifth, fourth, or even third grade. After all, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of Women’s Health says that “A girl may start her period anytime between 8 and 15,” with age eight often corresponding to being in the third grade. And before you get your first period, it would be kind of nice to have some kind of warning about what’s going to happen with your body. Unexpected bleeding doesn’t tend to be followed by words such as “cool” or “what else is on Netflix right now.”
Yet, if a new Florida bill currently being considered by the Florida House of Representatives gets passed, a girl in elementary school may not be able to talk about her periods with teachers or other experts at school. Yep, that’s what Florida State Representative Stan McClain (R) basically indicated when asked about House Bill (HB) 1069, the bill that he originally sponsored.
That’s because regarding, “instruction in acquired immune deficiency syndrome, sexually transmitted diseases, or health education,” HB 1069 stipulates that, “When such instruction and course material contains instruction in human sexuality, such instruction may only occur in grades 6 through 12,” and not earlier than that. This got Rep. Ashley Gantt (D) wondering, period. During a House Education Quality Subcommittee discussion on March 15, Gantt, who has actually taught in public schools, apparently wanted to confirm this “period piece” about HB1069 when she asked, “So if little girls experience their menstrual cycle in 5th grade or 4th grade, will that prohibit conversations from them since they are in the grade lower than sixth grade?” And to that McClain responded, “It would.”
The following tweet included a video clip of that exchange:
As you can see Florida Planned Parenthood Action reacted with a “WHAT” in ALL CAPS followed by a question mark, exclamation mark, question mark, and exclamation mark. So does McClain’s response mean that HB 1069 will effectively be the “Don’t Say Period” Bill or maybe the “Don’t Say Period Exclamation Mark” Bill? Well, such a Bill would certainly extend the reach of the Florida state government into the classroom. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida has called HB 1069 “Government Control Over What Is Taught In Sex Ed And Expanded Book Banning.” The ACLU used the words “book banning” because in their words, the bill would allow, “Anyone in the district to object to any material in the classroom or school library or on a reading list that depicts or describes any sexual conduct, even if it is not pornographic, if it is not for a health course. Such material would be removed pending investigation and subject to permanent removal.” That means that a person, any person, doesn’t have to be a science, health, or education expert to get a book removed from a classroom reading list.
Should this bill end up passing into law, what then will schools do when elementary kids beginning wondering about human sexuality and reproduction issues? Will schools say, “Go message the stork that brought you into this world,” or mutter something about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and a PayPal account? Does this mean that kids will have to learn about such things on TikTok, by watching episodes of the TV show Dr. Phil, or some other means that may not exactly be blinded by science, so to speak, instead? Gee, what possibly could go wrong there?
If you are assuming that elementary school kids won’t encounter sex or reproduction-related issues until middle school, you’ve got another thing coming. A kid only has to jump on social media, begin Googling or hear about yet another politician’s sex scandal to start wondering and asking questions. Plus, when the insides of you seem to start going outside sometime between the ages of 8 and 15, you’re gonna to want some answers.
So it wouldn’t be unusual for an elementary school student to go to a trusted teacher and ask about something like menstruation. Should HB 1069 become law, this could change that dynamic. Would teachers then respond to such questions with side-to-side “Is the KGB looking”-like glances and say something like “Don’t ask, don’t tell?” Since kids aren’t dense as you may think, such reactions from teachers may prompt them to believe their questions have been deemed taboo. And if you’ve ever gone through childhood yourself, you know what kids tend to do when something’s considered taboo. If you answered, “Drop it and never pursue it,” then you may have blocked your childhood out of your mind and never been around real kids.
Later on during the Subcommittee discussion, Gantt did express concerns that teachers could fear punishment when students approach them about such matters by saying, “My concern is they won’t feel safe to have those conversations with these little girls.” McClain responded, “that would not be the intent [of HB 1069]” and indicated that he’s “amenable” to changing some of the language of the Bill. He didn’t specify what changes he could make, though.
Nevertheless, HB 1069 got through the House Education Quality Subcommittee that day via a 13-5 vote that, surprise, surprise, largely followed party lines. This Bill is now on its way for a discussion and vote amongst the broader House. A similar Bill is making its way through the Florida State Senate.
Now, with Florida facing other seemingly more pressing issues, it’s not clear what specific problems HB 1069 is designed to address. It’s not as if kids discussing menstrual periods and other sexual health issues in elementary school has become a state crisis like Covid-19 or a gigantic seaweed blob. In fact, delaying when you start addressing human sexuality and reproduction issues in school could potentially worsen existing problems and create new ones. For example, I’ve already covered for Forbes how sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have been on the rise, drug-resistant gonorrhea is a growing problem, and people have been using Reddit to diagnose STIs. That’s what can happen when not enough people have means to discuss sex and safe sex. Moreover, the Covid-19 pandemic and the spread of all that misinformation has shown how Americans need more formal science education at an earlier age and not less of it. Not having enough formal science education can make people more susceptible to misinformation and disinformation, which, in turn, can make it harder to prevent the spread of diseases in the first place. The spread of diseases can lead to even more misinformation and problems. Yes, ultimately it can create quite a vicious cycle when you don’t allow people to talk more openly about basic human biology such as menstrual cycles.