SARASOTA — All Florida schools must begin teaching students from kindergarten through grade 12 about child trafficking prevention, as a result of a new rule passed by the state Board of Education on Monday
Local districts officials are working on creating plans before the state’s due date of Dec. 1.
As school districts throughout the state consider who will be tasked with teaching child trafficking prevention, the Sarasota County School District has started to look at a few options.
“In some schools, it may be the child’s first-period teacher,” said Laura Kingsley, the district’s chief academic officer. “In some schools, it may be that they have an assembly with a video, and then break off into classroom discussions. But looking children in the eyes and developing relationships with children is key for those discussions.”
The preliminary plan consists of using guidance counselors and physical education teachers to provide the instruction to elementary students — whom may have the most difficulty understanding the issues surrounding child trafficking.
“I will be listening to the conversation about how it’s going to be presented, and we’ll all put ourselves in the perspective of the child,” Kingsley said. “We will be very sensitive to that because I’m not about creating fear with children.”
Physical education teachers may also be used at middle schools, but the district will need to enlist other staff members — in addition to guidance counselors — at larger middle and high schools.
For instance, the five guidance counselors employed at a high school serving nearly 2,500 students can be involved in educating students about child exploitation and trafficking.
But they cannot be the sole instructors, Kingsley said, because it is impossible to have an intimate discussion about those issues with groups of nearly 500 students.
The district, she added, hopes to have some teachers lead discussions in their classrooms. Teachers may opt to pose questions that will elicit thoughtful responses from students.
For some students, their first conversation about child trafficking will take place at school.
“I bet some parents will say I never thought about addressing that issue with my child,” Kingsley said. “I’m a grandma, and I bet my children have not addressed that with my grandchildren. It’s not a topic that most parents think is something that might affect their child.”
No other state has required schools to educate students on child trafficking prevention, but most states fall behind Florida when it comes to how often incidents occur.
Florida ranks third in the nation for the number of reported human trafficking cases. There were 767 reported cases in 2018. Of those, 149 were minors.