South Florida Sun Sentinel | By Scott Travis | March 2, 2023
The sex education curriculum for Broward schools went through a brief but dramatic change this week, with drawings of human anatomy and most references to contraception and LGBTQ issues being eliminated from the district’s website.
On Monday, the same day as the district’s deadline to turn in sex education materials to the state Department of Education, the district posted a heavily redacted version of its comprehensive sex education curriculum, cutting out entire chapters.
Then on Wednesday, after a South Florida Sun Sentinel reporter questioned why such changes were made without public notice or board approval, as normally required by state law, spokesman John Sullivan said the move was “inadvertent.” By Wednesday afternoon, the old sex education curriculum was back up.
“The following curriculum was inadvertently deleted on 2/27/23,” the website now says. “The sexual health curriculum is currently under revision.”
“There was an issue that was identified and it has been resolved,” Board Chairwoman Lori Alhadeff said by text, declining to elaborate.
The misstep came as Broward and other districts face increased scrutiny from the state over instructional materials and library books. A spokesman for Gov. Ron DeSantis recently tweeted pictures from a sex education book found in three Broward school libraries and labeled it “pornography.”
Last week, the Florida Department of Education asked school districts in the state to complete a 34-question survey identifying materials they use relating to sex education as well as social-emotional learning and diversity, and equity and inclusion. The results were due Monday, although Sullivan said that wasn’t a factor in why the change on the website was made Monday.
“We did not upload the curriculum. The survey only required the title of the curriculum that we are utilizing,” he said.
Broward uses a comprehensive sex education program called “FLASH,” developed by health officials in Seattle and King County, Wash. The program, taught annually to students, discusses both abstinence and protection for those who have sex. Parents are allowed to opt their children out.
District officials said earlier this year that an overhaul was needed due to changes in state law.
The Parental Rights in Education law, dubbed by critics as “Don’t Say Gay,” prohibits classroom instruction related to sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3, as well as older grades if the discussions are deemed not age appropriate.
But in the briefly posted revisions, district officials didn’t actually rewrite the curriculum. Instead, they removed large sections of the King County program and maintained the rest.
The fifth-grade curriculum was slashed from 42 pages to 19 pages, under the revisions. The district kept a chapter about decision-making but deleted sections that dealt with reproductive health, puberty, menstruation, sexual exploitation and HIV/AIDS. Some of those topics were in the middle school curriculum.
The high school curriculum omitted chapters on the reproductive system, gender stereotypes, sexual orientation and gender identity, contraception and sex crimes.
The proposed revisions were posted on the district’s sex-ed website without the knowledge of Interim Superintendent Earlean Smiley, Sullivan said. The old lesson was back up on Wednesday afternoon.
“Once aware, Interim Superintendent Dr. Smiley immediately directed staff to revert to the existing School Board-approved sexual education curriculum until the new one is finalized and presented to the Board,” Sullivan said.
Kaila Lafferty, a spokeswoman for Public Health of Seattle & King County, which created the curriculum, wouldn’t specifically comment about Broward schools, saying her agency hadn’t been in touch with the district.
“The FLASH curriculum is developed, maintained, and copyrighted by Public Health – Seattle & King County. No other organization may revise and publish the material without our written permission,” she said in an email.
But she added, “Educators have lots of flexibility in how they implement any curriculum, depending on their local and state policies. They can exclude activities and lessons, based on direction from their school district.”
The revisions were scheduled to go the School Board for approval on March 7. But they will now be discussed at a March 28 workshop, district officials said.