The Miami-Dade County School board reversed its decision to include two new textbooks on sexual health for the upcoming school year, leaving students without sex education curriculum for the next several months.
The board voted on Wednesday in a 5-4 decision to not approve the sex education books it had previoulsy greenlit in April in a 5-3 vote, highlighting the challenges that educators face in the wake of the so-called “Parent Rights Education” bill going into effect earlier this month.
The bill, known by its opponents as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, went into effect on 1 July and prohibits educators from providing instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, and in instances that could be deemed inappropriate in other grades. The law that has drawn intense criticism nationally from advocates and allies who argue that it only serves to further stigmatise and marginalise already vulnerable LGBT+ people and has the knock-on effect of isolating LGBT+ kids in classroom settings amid their peers.
In the textbooks in question, which are designed for distribution to middle school and high school students, the content covered included contraception, the prevention of the transmission of sexual diseases, sexuality and how to manage stress and relationships with sections dedicated to alcohol and drugs.
The “Comprehensive Health Skills” books also included a section that discussed abortion procedures, which became a definitive sticking point for the local chapter of the County Citizens Defending Freedom, a conservative organisation who deemed specific chapters in the book as inappropriate.
“It goes into details about medical procedures such as abortion,” said Alex Serrano, the county director for County Citizens Defending Freedom, reported Local 10.
“Much of the content is not age appropriate, usurps parental rights and is scientifically inaccurate and not factual,” Mr Serrano added while speaking at the meeting against the textbooks’ adoption, specifically citing the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill that went into effect weeks ago.
Though the board had initially voted in favour of including the textbooks in the course curriculum in April, the decision to reverse their earlier vote led the president of the United Teachers of Dade to issue a statement condemning the decision to exclude the textbooks and effectively create a vacuous state for the upcoming year’s sexual health curriculum for middle school and high school students.
The Miami-Dade district, the fourth largest in the country, has less than a month to go before fall semester begins, leaving the more than 340,000 students enrolled in the district without a curriculum for the fast-approaching school year.
“We are disturbed by the continued attempt from extremist groups to censor books,” said Karla Hernández-Mats in a statement on Wednesday. “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.”
The vote came down after more than three hours of public comment, during which the vice chair, Steve Gallon III, highlighted that of the more than 40 people who spoke, at least 38 indicated they supported the textbooks’ inclusion in the curriculum.
“That’s 90 per cent of the speakers that spoke today — you do the math,” Mr Gallon said, according to The New York Times. “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.”
“Our current … process defends parents and their children who do not want to be exposed to this,” he added, who had noted that he supported the sex education textbooks. “But we cannot deny parents who want to have access for their children to this critically important information.”
In sections of the textbook that were dispersed by the County Citizens Defending Freedom ahead of the meeting, the group described as being a defender of “freedoms and liberties at the local level” highlighted sections that discussed unplanned pregnancies and provided information on abortion and emergency contraceptives, such as Plan B.
“Teachers that will be providing this material to children, which is illegal in the state of Florida, and the board that votes to adopt this, in the end — the country, the state and your community, will consider all of you groomers,” speaker Lourdes Galban, told the board during public comment, according to Politico.
Staff at the public meeting on Wednesday emphasised that the timeline to get an approved textbook in the hands of middle school and high school students for the upcoming year could take anywhere between four to eight months, meaning many students could go without the course content until halfway through the academic year or longer.
This, noted one parent in attendance at the meeting, creates a scenario where the “stakes are really too high”.
“We want kids to be prepared when the time comes,” said Marika Lynch, a mother of three, at the meeting, according to The New York Times. “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?”
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