Miami-Dade School Board Rejects New Textbooks With Sex Education Curriculum

Miami-Dade School Board Rejects New Textbooks With Sex Education Curriculum

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Facing pressure from parents empowered by a new state education law, the Miami-Dade County School Board has reversed itself on adopting two new textbooks for the coming school year, leaving students without a sexual education curriculum for the next several months.

The board had voted 5 to 3 in April to adopt the textbooks, but its decision was met with a number of petitions opposing the move from parents citing a new state law that supporters call the Parental Rights in Education measure but that opponents refer to as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

The outcry prompted a hearing in June. The district’s superintendent appointed a hearing officer to listen to the petitioners, who recommended to the school board that it deny the petitions and move forward with adopting the textbooks. On Wednesday, the board voted 5 to 4 not to approve the new textbooks.

The school board’s decision is the latest development in the story of how Florida’s curriculum is being shaped since Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation in March that bans classroom instruction and discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity in some elementary school grades.

Wednesday’s vote was not the first time a curriculum has been rejected in Florida. In April, the state rejected 42 of 132 math textbooks for use in public schools, citing “prohibited topics.”

The textbooks in question on Wednesday — middle school and high school editions of “Comprehensive Health Skills” — cover topics that include prevention of pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and understanding sexuality. The books also cover drugs and alcohol, stress management and relationships.

Karla Hernández-Mats, president of the United Teachers of Dade, said in a statement on Wednesday that she was disappointed to see the board reverse its decision from April, adding that “the voice of extremist individuals with political agendas” should not dictate what students learn.

“We are disturbed by the continued attempt from extremist groups to censor books,” she said. “Our teachers are partners with parents and believe they should continue to be able to opt their children out of content with which they are uncomfortable. We respect parental voices and the choices they make for their children and not the children of others.”

Alex Serrano, the director of the Miami-Dade chapter of County Citizens Defending Freedom, spoke at the meeting against the adoption of the textbooks because, he said, the material could violate Florida state law.

“Much of the content is not age appropriate, usurps parental rights and is scientifically inaccurate and not factual,” Mr. Serrano said.

Wednesday’s hourslong school board meeting grew tense at times. At one point, a woman was escorted out by police officers, and at another moment, the school board members called for a five-minute recess after drawing several jeers from those in attendance.

After the recess, the vice chair, Steve Gallon III, noted that of the more than 40 people who had spoken at the meeting, 38 were in favor of the new textbooks.

“That’s 90 percent of the speakers that spoke today — you do the math,” Mr. Gallon said. “That data, for me, provides a greater opportunity to debunk and denounce this narrative that there’s this broad opposition to the board’s adoption of these materials.”

Marika Lynch, a mother of three, spoke at the meeting in favor of adopting the textbooks, saying that “the stakes are really too high.”

“We want kids to be prepared when the time comes,” Ms. Lynch said. “Would you rather have this information given to them by their teachers, who are trained to do this in an age-appropriate way? Or would you rather have them get the information on their phone?”

Kahlil Sankara, who attended Miami-Dade public schools before graduating from Florida International University, said at the meeting that he had never received sexual education while growing up. Mr. Sankara said he had friends in the area who had contracted HIV, while other friends had babies in middle school or high school.

“I think the results were detrimental to me and my community,” Mr. Sankara said. “That did not prepare us for anything other than to instill us with fear and a lack of proper knowledge.”

Because Florida state law requires that the approval of instructional materials on reproductive health be made available for public review and comment, Lourdes Diaz, chief academic officer of Miami-Dade public schools, said it would be some time before new material could be approved, leaving students without that curriculum for now.

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