TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Miami-Dade County students could go months without sex education books after school board members this week rejected two proposed textbooks over concerns they violate the state’s “Parental Rights in Education” bill, known by opponents as “Don’t Say Gay.”
The decision, which came down to a tight 5-4 vote on Wednesday, marks one of the first major instances of the contentious measure shaping local school policies, an action that came amid parents opposing the books for broaching topics like abortion and contraceptives.
Rejecting the textbooks puts Miami in a precarious situation by leaving the school district without an approved sex ed curriculum for middle and high school students with the fall semester less than a month away. Miami-Dade is the fourth largest school district in the country.
“Some of the chapters are extremely troublesome,” said board member Mari Tere Rojas, who voted against the books. “I do not consider them to be age appropriate. In my opinion, they go beyond what the state standards are.”
Wednesday’s vote came after three hours of public comment and debate over the two “Comprehensive Health Skills” books for students in middle and high school, texts that have been under scrutiny in Miami for months now.
Miami-Dade school officials recommended approving the textbooks following a public hearing on June 8 to field some 278 petitions against the materials, which the district denied.
Some parents argued the lessons extend beyond what schools should be educating students on sex education while others contested that rejecting the books would allow a vocal group to drive the decision for a school district serving some 340,000 students. The outcry in Miami against the sex education books included the local chapter of County Citizens Defending Freedom, a conservative group that aims to “defend their freedoms and liberties at the local level.”
Under Florida law, any parent can opt their child out of sex education lessons.
“Our current … process defends parents and their children who do not want to be exposed to this,” said Steve Gallon III, the board’s vice chair who supported the sex education textbooks. “But we cannot deny parents who want to have access for their children to this critically important information.”
The move by the school board shows how Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill, passed earlier this year and championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, is shaping school curriculum in the wake of its passage. The law prohibits teachers from leading classroom lessons on gender identity or sexual orientation for students in kindergarten through third grade. It also prohibits these lessons for older students unless they are “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate.”
LGBTQ supporters and Democrats rallied against the legislation, branded as “Don’t Say Gay,” disputing that those lessons are being taught in Florida schools and maintaining that the policies would further marginalize LGBTQ students and their families, leading to drastic outcomes like bullying and even suicide. The bill also sparked a fight between Florida conservatives and Walt Disney Co. after the entertainment giant said it would work to repeal the parental rights measure.
County Citizens Defending Freedom’s local executive director, Alex Serrano, claimed Wednesday that “significant portions” of the materials proposed in Miami-Dade “may violate Florida state law” and “much of the content is not age appropriate, usurps parental rights, and is scientifically inaccurate and not factual.”
In snippets of the textbooks circulated by the group, they highlighted lessons surrounding unplanned pregnancies that include definitions of abortion and emergency contraceptives like the Plan B pill.
One speaker at the board meeting claimed the books teach students there are “nine genders,” a likely reference to a page that describes a list of gender identities such as androgenous, cisgender, nonbinary and transgender. The Miami Herald reported that the school board removed the “Understanding Sexuality” chapter from the books for middle and high school students.
“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.
The majority of speakers at Wednesday’s meeting, including parents and students, supported the sex education textbooks and pushed for their adoption. They said that the lessons were crucial for students, pointing to sexual activity rates among teens and that they “want kids to be prepared when the time comes.”
“Parents who wish to limit their children’s information about reproductive health have always had the option to opt out,” speaker Gina Vinueza told the board Wednesday.
“The proposed approval of the textbooks today would not take that choice away from them. However, if the board does not approve the textbooks, they will be taking away the rights of everyone to public ed that is based on facts and science.”
The board’s move to reject the sex education textbooks could trigger school officials to restart the adoption process for the classroom materials. School staffers at Wednesday’s meeting estimated it could take between four and eight months for different books to be approved, a timeline posing an issue for high school students on tap to learn those lessons in the fall.
Miami-Dade’s sex education curriculum is embedded in science and personal fitness classes, school officials said.