‘We failed.’ Broward Schools to end year with no sex ed

School officials blame state changes, lack of approved sex-ed curriculum

South Florida Sun-Sentinel | By Scott Travis | May 17, 2023

Broward schools offered no sexual education classes to students this school year, a move that School Board members have described as a major failure.

Sex ed has traditionally been taught during the last two months of school, but with the school year ending in three weeks, officials acknowledge they have no approved curriculum and no time to create one.

The announcement outraged some School Board members at a meeting Tuesday.

“We’re almost at the end of the school year. Our students have not received a sexual health curriculum. That is very, very dangerous,” Board member Sarah Leonardi said.

Board member Allen Zeman said “there’s no excuse” for failing to teach a subject that the School Board had affirmed in March as important.

“This is Broward County, and this is way, way below the standard for Broward County,” Zeman said. “We failed.”

The state does not require districts to teach sex ed but sets rules if they do, including promoting abstinence as the best way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, posting the curriculum on the district’s website and allowing parents to opt out.

For the past eight years, Broward has used a comprehensive curriculum called “FLASH,” developed by health officials in Seattle and King County, Wash. The program discusses both abstinence and protection for those who have sex.

But district officials said they could no longer use that full curriculum. Interim Superintendent Earlean Smiley, who started in February, said the curriculum hadn’t been approved annually by the School Board, as has been required by state law.

There’s a dispute about whether the curriculum was ever approved. The School Board approved a sexual health policy in 2014 that incorporated many of the ideas of the curriculum, but Smiley said she doesn’t think the actual curriculum got approved.

Another issue is the program included references to LGBTQ issues starting in elementary grades, which district officials said ran afoul of a parental rights law, dubbed by critics as “Don’t Say Gay,” which bans instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3. The law has now been expanded to students in pre-kindergarten to 8th grade under a bill Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Wednesday.

In addition, the state Board of Education passed a rule in April that greatly restricts instruction on LGBTQ topics even in high schools.

Broward school administrators brought a largely redacted version of the FLASH curriculum to the School Board on March 28, but board members complained the draft removed far more content than what was required to meet state law.

Entire chapters about birth control, the reproductive system, human anatomy and LGBTQ people were removed. Discussion about puberty and menstrual periods, which had been mentioned as early as the fourth grade, were delayed until middle school.

Board members asked district administrators to bring back a curriculum that was as comprehensive as allowed under state law. Instead, no sex ed has been taught except for a few topics covered in other classes or required by state law, such as preventing sex abuse and human trafficking, HIV and AIDS and healthy decision-making.

“The conversation we had when I brought sex ed to the board was this is not an approved curriculum, and we needed to pause,” Smiley said. “The pause happened.”

But board members said they never expected that to last for the rest of the school year.

“It was never brought forward to the board saying, ‘Hey. This is coming to you, and if it’s not approved today, this is not going to be taught at all,’” Board member Daniel Foganholi said. “We were all waiting on something and now to hear that it’s not going to be taught at all is worrisome.”

Board Chairwoman Lori Alhadeff said she wants the district to send a letter to parents saying that sex ed isn’t being taught and provide some resources, including a possible virtual education program. Smiley said she was agreeable to that.

District officials said they plan to offer sex education next year, but it could look dramatically different. A new law now requires the state Board of Education to approve all districts’ sex ed plans. The state board is made of all DeSantis appointees and is more socially conservative than the Broward School Board.

“We will meet the letter of the law, and we will make sure that as far as we can go, we will,” Smiley told the board. “But we’re not going to take any liberties.”

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