The Miami-Dade School Board voted to reject a sex-education textbook for middle- and high school students. The district will have no textbook for this subject for several months—until a new one is located or until the current one is stripped of all offending content.

In a narrowly divided vote, the Miami-Dade School Board Wednesday reversed its decision to adopt a new sex education textbook for the 2022-23 school year — a move that leaves the district with no sexual education curriculum for at least four to eight months.

The 5-4 vote followed an emotionally charged public comment period that included community members being escorted out of the building and a multi-hour board discussion that strongly paralleled the discussion it previously had in April, when members initially adopted the material in a 5-3 vote….

The book, “Comprehensive Health Skills,” which comes with a version for middle school and one for high school classes and offers research-based health education with topics such as nutrition, physical activity and sexually transmitted diseases, would have addressed the district’s units of study for Human Reproduction and Disease Education for grades six through 12.

But the materials soon came under fire from some parents and community members who argued the lessons were not age appropriate and violated the state’s parental rights law, which Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law in March and which critics have dubbed the ‘Don’t say gay’ bill. They also argued the district’s process lacked transparency.

The pushback included the filing of 278 petitions objecting to the materials and resulted in Miami-Dade Superintendent José Dotres selecting a hearing officer to conduct a public hearing to review the concerns and the materials in question

That hearing, which was conducted on June 8, resulted in the hearing officer recommending the board “deny the petitions and proceed with the adoption process,” according to the district.

This is not the first time school textbooks have been questioned. Earlier this year, the Florida Department of Education announced it was rejecting 54 math textbooks in the state’s public schools, claiming the books contained “prohibited topics,’’ including critical race theory.

“I’m deeply disappointed by today’s decision. I hoped that Miami’s School Board would step up to protect youth in times of crisis,” said Kat Duesterhaus, a board member of Florida NOW and Miami Coalition to Advance Racial Equity. Not only does providing comprehensive sexual education help prevent sexually transmitted diseases, sexually transmitted infections and unwanted teen pregnancy, it’s also important to “building bodily autonomy,” which is important for teens to prevent and identify instances of sexual assault, Duesterhaus said. “We need to equip youth with the ability to navigate their own bodies and consensual situations,” Duesterhaus added. “We’re leaving them ill equipped to have agency of their sexuality and bodies.”

For those who opposed the adoption, the content under question was either inappropriate or “not scientifically factual,” such as vaccinations being the only proven method from viral disease, a notion they would challenge, Alex Serrano, the county director for County Citizens Defending Freedom, told reporters before the meeting Wednesday. Serrano has no children in the district and sends his children to Centner Academy, the Miami private school that last year said teachers and students who got vaccinated for COVID-19 could not interact with students and would risk losing their job.

“We are not against sexual education or human reproduction and sexual education books,” Serrano said. “We are for statutory compliance and age appropriateness in the content … and compliance with parental rights law.” Discussions regarding gender ideology “do not belong” in the books. “That is ideology,” he said. Others who spoke against the adoption also cited their contempt with the books’ discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation as reasons to oppose the materials. But in the board’s decision in April, members agreed to remove the chapter called “Understanding Sexuality” from both middle and high school textbooks, which would have discussed those topics.

More than 40 people — parents, students and community members — signed up to speak on Wednesday. Of those, 38 asked the board to adopt the recommendation given by the hearing officer, according to Vice Chair Steve Gallon III’s count. Just four urged against doing so. “That’s 90% of the speakers that spoke today. You do the math,” he said on the dais. “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.”

Most people in favor of the textbooks cited the urgent need to provide this information to students. Some pointed to research that found students who receive quality sexual health education choose abstinence longer and have fewer rates of unplanned pregnancies. Others said the materials provide a safe environment for students to learn factual, scientific information and give them the understanding to prevent instances of sexual violence.

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The school board will meet again to reconsider the issue because the district is now out of compliance with state requirements.

The Miami-Dade County School Board is meeting on Thursday to “assess the potential impact” of its decision to reject the adoption of a comprehensive health and sex-education textbook for middle and high school students. The 5-4 vote effectively removed sexual education curriculum for middle and high school students for at least four to eight months and left the school district out of compliance with curriculum requirements and standards set by the Florida Department of Education….

“The issue at hand, as reflected in the item, is compliance with the Florida Department of Education,” Chairwoman Perla Tabares Hantman said in a statement. The requirements are different for each grade level and everything must be “grade-appropriate.”

Still, she added, “above everything, we must respect parental rights. Parents play an essential role in the education of their children. Parental rights are the bedrock of our school district. Rest assured that this School Board is committed to respecting the rights of parents to make decisions regarding the education of their children.”

The special meeting — scheduled for Thursday at noon — is expected to draw many more parents and community members than last week, said Gina Vinueza, a district parent and one of the organizers behind a petition, Save Sex-Ed in Miami-Dade.

Last week, more than 40 parents, community members and organization representatives flocked to the meeting to speak on the curriculum adoption. Of those who spoke, 38 urged the board to adopt the recommendation given by the hearing officer, according to Vice Chair Steve Gallon III’s count; just four spoke against doing so.

Here is the puzzle: which parent voices count? The board listened to parents opposed to the textbook. The board did not listen to the parents who support the textbook.

Why does the board decide to side with some parents while ignoring others?

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