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Broward school board passes sex ed curriculum, ends PROMISE program

Broward School Board member Lori Alhadeff poses for a photograph.
Alie Skowronski
Miami Herald
Broward School Board member Lori Alhadeff was elected as board chair Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022, after five board members were sworn in earlier in the day at Fort Lauderdale High School.

The Broward County school board narrowly passed a new sexual education curriculum after multiple rounds of impassioned comments from the public.

The board also voted to end a controversial pre-arrest diversion program for students, known as PROMISE, which came under intense scrutiny in 2018 after it was revealed that the gunman who killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was referred to it but never completed it.

The board voted 5-4 to approve the sex-ed curriculum following a parade of speakers who mostly urged for its passage. The curriculum, which instructs students about consent, puberty and birth control, is broken down by grade-level and features lessons and discussion topics for teachers.

Board chair Lori Alhadeff wanted to amend the curriculum to remove an exercise for ninth graders that had students role play conversations about consent and sex — including oral, vaginal or anal with their partner. The exercise guides teachers to ask the high schoolers "What kinds of questions should young people ask themselves before taking that step? "

“I feel this this lesson is inappropriate and I would like to make a motion to delete this lesson," she told board members.

Her motion failed.

“The goal of this lesson is to normalize conversations, difficult conversations, particularly around topics related to sex, so that students are informed decision makers," said Jodi Washington, the district's Equity, Diversity & School Climate director.

The entire curriculum barely passed the board with Alhadeff, Torey Alston, Brenda Fam and Daniel Foganholi opposing it.

Last school year students had no sex ed curriculum after the board failed to update their teaching program to meet new state laws limiting discussions on gender and sexuality.

READ MORE: The Broward school district considered abstinence-focused sex ed. Board members rejected it

The new program has been submitted to the state’s Department of Education.

The curriculum is usually taught towards the end of the school year, giving the district time to make tweaks to the program.

The debate over sex ed curriculum comes at a time when when students nationwide appear to be beginning puberty at younger and younger ages — some girls even before age 8, according to the National Institutes of Health — and as new cases of HIVare surging in South Florida.

Equality South Florida, a political advocacy group that advocates for civil rights and protections for LGBTQ residents — called the curriculum “one of the most comprehensive curriculums (within the confines of the law) that we have seen.”

PROMISE Program ends

After the vote on sex ed curriculum, the board voted to end the PROMISE program — at least in name.

The Preventing Recidivism through Opportunities, Mentoring, Interventions, Supports and Education program offered students accused of certain nonviolent misdemeanors an alternative to being arrested and prosecuted through the criminal justice system. The student received civil citations from the school district and attended alternative schooling, and given counseling and other services.

It was hailed as a success following its inception in 2013, but became a lightning rod in the aftermath of the horrific Parkland shooting.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission, formed to give the state recommendations for preventing more school shootings, criticized the PROMISE program for allowing students off the hook without involving law enforcement.

The program will be removed, but all of the services offered by the program will remain, according to Superintendent Peter Licata. He noted that district data shows a varying level of enforcement across schools — something he wants to curb.

"It's our responsibility as a school district that if an action happens in a certain school, we have to make sure that they're trained to do the same thing as another school," he told the board. He also said that he plans to come back to the board with a proposal for a revamped program.

"We want to make sure that everything is done front instead of back. Stop working on the reaction and be proactive in that. So those services will probably expand as we move forward."

Gerard Albert III covers Broward County. He is a former WLRN intern who graduated from Florida International University. He can be reached atgalbert@wlrnnews.org
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