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The South Florida Roundup

Testimony begins in Cruz death penalty trial, and no sex ed for Miami-Dade public school students

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Schplook Flickr/Creative Commons
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WLRN

The jury began hearing testimonies this week for Nikolas Cruzes penalty trial, and will decide if he lives or dies. Also, the Miami-Dade school board rejected the health education curriculum for middle and high schools students that they previously approved, meaning students will not have sex education classes.

A Broward County jury began hearing testimony this week in the death penalty trial of Marjory Stoneman Douglas gunman Nikolas Cruz. The jury will decide if he will spend the rest of his life in prison, or be put to death.

Stories from inside the school filled much of the first week.

“He said to me ‘Get out of here. Things are about to get bad,” recalled former student Christopher McKenna.

He remembers Nikolas Cruz told him this on Feb. 14, 2018 in a hallway of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Cruz has admitted to killing 17 people and wounding 17 others in the mass shooting.

This first week of testimony also featured video from inside the building — sometimes graphic footage and audio — and video of the shooter afterward in fast-food restaurants.

“The first day was probably the most brutal for the video and the audio,” said WLRN’s Broward reporter Gerard Albert III. “We heard cell phone video of the shooting … and you heard the shots and also the students crying, screaming for help.”

The prosecution spent 55 minutes laying out the entire scene in its opening statement, recounting that tumultuous day moment by moment.

Albert said that this is what the testimonies have been like so far: Recounting and retelling what happened that day.

Craig Trocino, director of the Miami Law Innocence Clinic at the University of Miami, said the prosecution’s strategy is one he expected. He said this methodical, meticulous detailing of the facts leading up to the trial is what they have to do because Cruz has already pleaded guilty.

“So the prosecution is going to have to get into a lot of the things the jury would have normally already heard,” he said.

Miami-Dade County sex education curriculum rejected

There will be no sex ed for Miami-Dade public school students until at least November. And maybe not until March.

This week, the Miami-Dade school board rejected the health education curriculum for middle and high school students. This material had already been reviewed and OKed, but more than 200 petitions were filed opposing the two approved textbooks.

The board voted 5-4 to cancel the curriculum.

One of these textbooks was for middle schoolers, and the other for high schoolers. The books cover a wide range of health topics ranging from promoting healthy relationships to human development and pregnancy prevention.

Those that pushed for the petition claimed the material wasn’t age-appropriate, nor was the district’s previous approval transparent enough.

WLRN’s Education Reporter Kate Payne said that not all of the chapters designed for these books were going to be in the versions that Miami-Dade was looking at. She said that the district decided that some chapters were not needed to meet the state’s standard.

One of the removed chapters is titled “Understanding Sexuality”.

“The parents that were filing these complaints were objecting to both material that would not end up in the Miami-Dade version, as well as material that was supposed to end up in the county’s version of these textbooks,” she said.

Some of the topics the parents objected to included information about contraception, emergency contraception and abortion.

Dr. Steve Gallon, Vice-Chair of the MDC public school board, was one of the members that voted to keep the textbooks.

He believed in the process, which required the appointed hearing officer to review all of the petitions and listen to witness testimony after the initial meeting in June.

“Our moral imperative is to make sure that we provide access and opportunity for students to have data-driven, scientific-based information to reinforce their educational experiences,” he said. “The process was transparent … there was no need to deprive students from the opportunity to have access to those resources.”

Dr. Lisa Gwynn, Associate Professor of Clinical Pediatrics and Public Health Sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, believes it is unfortunate that it's come to this, especially with how long reproductive health has been a part of schools.

She was one of the individuals charged with reading the textbooks and said she read them cover to cover.

“Why wouldn’t we want our teenagers to know about all of this? Do we want our teens to live in a bubble and go out in the world and not be familiar with all of this information that’s extremely important for them to know?” she said.

She recommends regulators to follow science and the Academy of Pediatrics about what is age-appropriate. Currently, Miami-Dade County public schools won’t have sexual education until new textbooks are approved, which could take months.

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Natu Tweh is producer of The Florida Roundup and The South Florida Roundup at WLRN.