Strategies to increase health — and sexual — education for Manatee County teens were among the topics discussed by the four candidates running for the two remaining school board races Tuesday.
In a debate at the Manatee Community Foundation, Manatee High School student members of the Healthy Teens Coalition asked District 3 incumbent Dave Miner, District 3 challenger Misty Servia, District 1 candidate Ed Viltz and District 1 candidate Gina Messenger a host of questions coming from the student health perspective.
School board races are nonpartisan, countywide races. Any registered voter in the county can cast a vote. Candidates must live in the geographical district for which they are running. District 3 covers West Bradenton and Anna Maria Island. District 1 covers the northern part of the county, excluding downtown Palmetto. After 10 years, District 1 incumbent Bob Gause is not running for the seat again.
The coalition aims to reduce risky behaviors by providing teens with knowledge and skills to make informed choices about their physical, mental and emotional health and well-being. More than 50 non profit social service agencies, community based health providers, the Manatee County School District, Manatee County Government, and faith-based entities make up the coalition.
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In the August primary, Servia and Miner beat out Charlie Conoley. Viltz and Messenger beat out Xtavia Bailey and Linda Schaich to head the general election on Nov. 8. Board members will be sworn in for four years terms on Nov. 28.
When it came to increasing health education, candidates said they’d work with state officials to increase local control over curriculum.
“That seems to be one of the issues we’re having,” Messenger said, adding that only topics tested or considered a “state standard” are taught in schools.
Viltz advocated to expand the already existing “It’s yoUR Choice” program to more Manatee schools. The program is a teen pregnancy prevention program that’s optional for schools to use.
“It needs to be part of the standard curriculum that starts at the district level so that all of our students are hearing the same thing from the same instructors in the same manner,” Viltz said.
Part of the problem is the state’s involvement in setting curriculum, Servia said.
“Most of the direction we are getting on our curriculum is from the state of Florida,” Servia said. “We need more local control.”
Miner challenged the students in the room to get involved at the most local level, including the school advisory council at their school.
”You don’t have to be elected to public office to be a sound advocate if you really care, you go ahead and do it on your own. I challenge you to do more,” Miner said.
Student questions to the board candidates cited research that shows sexual education as part of health education leads to students taking better steps to protect their own health.
Agreeing that health education was extremely important, board candidates also said it was important that parents be able to “opt out” of the health education curriculum if parents don’t agree with the information that students are being taught, particularly when it comes to sexual education.
In other topics, candidates agreed bullying was an issue worthy of board focus and that they’d like to change school start times if the logistical concerns could be addressed.