WASHINGTON, United States - Florida lawmakers are considering a draft law to strengthen state control over sex education that its sponsor says would ban any instruction in schools about menstrual cycles before the sixth grade.
The proposal comes as Florida's Republican-dominated legislature, backed by Governor Ron DeSantis, has already passed a raft of laws limiting discussion in schools of gender and sexuality and reducing the emphasis on diversity in public schools.
The latest proposal, from Republican Stan McClain, would allow instruction in "acquired immune deficiency syndrome, sexually transmitted diseases, or health education" only in grades six through 12, generally meaning for children aged 12 to 18.
Girls typically have their first periods between the ages of 10 and 15, but some do so as young as nine.
"Imagine a little girl in fourth grade, going to the bathroom and finding blood in her panties and thinking that she is dying," state representative Ashley Gantt, a Democrat, said in a video posted on Instagram.
"She doesn't actually know what's going on. And her teacher does not even have the ability to tell her that this is a part of life."
When Gantt queried McClain during a subcommittee hearing on whether his proposal would prevent teachers from discussing menstrual cycles with girls younger than 12, he replied repeatedly, "It would."
He defended the bill as a way to make sex education more uniform statewide and give parents more leverage over curricula, and later said he was open to amending it, media reports said.
The bill passed the subcommittee by a 13-to-5 vote.
Planned Parenthood decried the legislation, saying it would take "total control from local school districts in approving sex ed curriculum and give it to the State Department of Education" while presenting a "reductive and binary view of sex" and stigmatizing LGBTQ students.
The policy and political director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, Annie Filkowski, condemned the legislation as "absurd."
"This bill shines a bright light on Florida's political leaders' perpetual thirst for power," she said in a statement, calling it ridiculous to ban young students from discussing periods with their teachers.
DeSantis, who is seen as the leading rival to Donald Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has framed such laws as a commonsense pushback to excesses prompted by progressive activism.
But critics say conservative legislatures in Florida and elsewhere are trying to impose their own values on others while curbing free-speech rights and preventing students from having a well-rounded education.
© Agence France-Presse