State won’t investigate Broward schools’ anti-hate program

South Florida Sun-Sentinel | By Scott Travis | March 6, 2023

The state has decided not to formally investigate an anti-hate program used by Broward schools that a parent alleged may violate state laws related to critical race theory and LGBTQ issues.

The state Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General had questioned the district’s use of an Anti-Defamation League program called “No Place for Hate,” which the School Board voted Dec. 13 to renew.

But the Department of Education confirmed to the South Florida Sun Sentinel that it will not launch a formal investigation, after receiving a letter from the district saying there was no formal curriculum for “No Place for Hate” and the district was ensuring another ADL-funded program will comply with state laws.

“After reviewing your response, our office is closing this correspondence and sending the correspondence back to the Broward County School District and the Division of Public Schools for any further action deemed appropriate,” Thomas Wood, a management review specialist with the education department’s Office of Inspector General, wrote to Chief of Staff Valerie Wanza on Feb. 10.

A spokeswoman added, “the matter is closed.”

The Department of Education provided the Sun Sentinel with an update on the complaint Friday following weeks of repeated requests asking about the status.

“The District thanks the Florida Department of Education for its review and looks forward to continuing to provide our students with well-rounded educational experiences,” Broward schools spokesman John Sullivan said in a statement.

Mike Blackburn, the education department’s inspector general, sent a letter to former Superintendent Vickie Cartwright on Feb. 3, asking for “information and clarification” regarding the “No Place for Hate” program. The letter came amid a complaint from Deidre Ruth, a Hollywood parent.

“The correspondence alleged that the ‘No Place for Hate’ curriculum provided by the ADL contains topics such as Critical Race Theory, sexual orientation and gender identity ideology,” in violation of state laws passed last year, Blackburn wrote.

One state law, dubbed “Stop WOKE,” prohibits instruction of critical race theory, which views racism as systemic in the nation’s institutions. It’s a concept historically taught in colleges, but it has become a catch-all term adopted by critics who say it’s divisive to define people as oppressors and oppressed based on their race.

A second law, the “Parental Rights in Education” law, dubbed by critics as “don’t say gay,” bans the instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3 and older grades if deemed to be not age appropriate.

Wanza, a district administrator who was filling in as superintendent for part of last month, responded to Blackburn that there is no curriculum for “No Place for Hate,” and there won’t be one in the future. She said it’s a designation that a school gets when it completes three “pro-social, anti-bullying” activities.

Wanza said the district has another contract with ADL, for a program called “A World of Difference,” that uses training materials that are being customized for the district in compliance with state laws.

She said the materials won’t be used until they are approved by a district screening committee and deemed compliant with Florida statutes.

The materials would be available in grades 6-12 clubs and activities and would require parental permission, Wanza wrote.

Ruth sent the state a complaint after reviewing materials for ADL programs. She told the Sun Sentinel there were many references to gender ideology and diversity and equity issues that she believed were in conflict with state law, and district staff didn’t explain how it would comply with state law when the “No Place for Hate” vote came up in December.

Ruth was a critic of Cartwright and asked the School Board in public meetings to fire her. But she said she’s more hopeful now that retired district administrator Earlean Smiley has been hired on as interim superintendent.

“I’ll monitor to see what happens,” she said. “I have a lot of more faith in Dr. Smiley, I’ll see what she puts out there.”

ADL Florida did not respond to a request Monday for comment.

A statement from ADL Florida last month said the group provides resources to schools, school districts, synagogues, youth groups and other organizations throughout the country.

“We tailor each of the suggested programs and content to meet the stated needs of the host institution,” the statement said. “Empowering young people against bigotry is a vital aspect of our mission — to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and secure justice and fair treatment to all.”

The district website says “No Place for Hate Day” takes place every May. This year’s date is May 12.

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