South Florida school board rejects sex ed textbook under pressure

Miami-Dade School Board meeting on July 20. (Screenshot from Miami-Dade County Public Schools website)

MIAMI (AP) | The school board of Florida’s largest school district reversed its decision to adopt a new sex education book, with some in the majority saying the material is not age appropriate for students in middle and high school.

The 5-4 vote followed an emotionally charged Miami-Dade School Board meeting July 20, with some members of the public being escorted from the room, the Miami Herald reported.

It’s not clear how the nation’s fourth-largest public school system, with 334,000 students, will comply with state law requiring students to receive sexual education. Choosing, ordering and distributing a new textbook could take months.

“Comprehensive Health Skills,” published by Goodheart-Willcox in Illinois, comes in different versions for middle and high schools, with topics including nutrition, physical activity and sexually transmitted diseases, as required under the district’s units of study for Human Reproduction and Disease Education.

Neither the publisher nor the school district immediately responded to inquiries from The Associated Press regarding content that may have been deemed objectionable by the board’s majority.

The board adopted the textbook in April on a 5-3 vote, but then its material was challenged by some parents who cited the parental rights law Gov. Ron DeSantis in March.

Critics call it the “don’t say gay” law because it prohibits instruction related to gender identity or sexual orientation in grades K through 3, “or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

In adopting the book in April, the board voted to ask the publisher to remove a chapter called “Understanding Sexuality,” which covers gender and sexual orientation among other topics.

Still, critics filed 278 objections. Opponents of vaccines challenged the book’s references to how vaccinations can prevent viral infections. Others objected to content about contraception and abortion.

Miami-Dade Superintendent Jose Dotres asked a third-party reviewer to conduct a public hearing to review their concerns. That hearing officer ultimately recommended adopting the book, leading to Wednesday’s meeting.

Board member Luisa Santos, who voted in favor of the book, noted that the district enables parents to opt out of material they don’t want their children to learn about sexual health and pregnancy and disease prevention.

“We will be opting out everyone in the following school year. Including all the people who have come here and told us that they want this,” Santos said, according to WLRN-TV.

Thirty-eight of the 40 speakers Wednesday asked to keep the textbook, Vice Chair Steve Gallon III said.

“That’s 90% of the speakers that spoke today. You do the math,” he 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.”

But Mari Teri Rojas, who voted against the book, said she feels some of the content isn’t age appropriate. She also said that it’s not fair to count only the speakers at the meeting because others had emailed urging the board not to adopt.

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