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Former Miami-Dade superintendent says sex ed is important and wants new books to be adopted quickly

Books on a library bookshelf
Victoria Crosdale
WUSF Public Media

Alberto Carvalho said he hopes the school board fast-tracks a plan to adopt new books and restore the sex ed curriculum — especially since state law requires health classes to cover teen pregnancy and teen dating violence.

The fourth-largest school district in the nation won't be teaching students about safe sex or STI prevention for at least several months. That's after a small minority of parents successfully challenged comprehensive health textbooksfor middle and high schoolers in the Miami-Dade school district.

Former Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said he hopes the school board fast-tracks a plan to adopt new books — especially since state law requires health classes to cover teen pregnancy and teen dating violence. Carvalho now leads the public school district in Los Angeles. He spoke with WLRN's Jessica Bakeman during a national conference of education journalists in Orlando over the weekend.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

CARVALHO: So my immediate concern is, if not this, then what? And when? How will, N o . 1 , Miami - Dade comply with state statute? But more importantly, how will the students actually receive the appropriate curriculum that's age - appropriate and that they're entitled to?

BAKEMAN: And the stakes of this are pretty high, when you look at the fact that South Florida has some of the highest HIV transmission rates in the country. And also now we have a new state law banning abortion after 15 weeks. A young person who is pregnant, who doesn't have sex education, may not even know they're pregnant.

CARVALHO: This type of curriculum is required for a reason, because it is protective in nature. It empowers young people with the ability to make decisions, to understand what the challenges and the risks are and take measures that are protective in nature. Devoid of this curriculum, one would have to rely on the parental voice, and that's not necessarily always assured.

So all around this is of concern. I just certainly hope that the district expedites a procurement process that lands on a curriculum that meets state statute, but more importantly, is honest and accurate about empowering young people with the information and the knowledge they need.

BAKEMAN: Well, we've seen increasing pressure from Gov. Ron DeSantis and conservative parent groups on a number of issues that deal with schools. But this is the same school board that, when you were superintendent, voted to mandate masks in schools against the governor, against the education commissioner at the time. What do you think is different here? Is there a shift?

CARVALHO: So I am proud of the fact that the board, during my tenure, made decisions that were absolutely endorsed by the medical community, by the scientific community. I would not have accepted any other way. It is apparent now that obviously, in retrospect, there are consequences associated with that. But I think that lives were protected. The right thing was done.

But certainly there appears to be a shift. And I think that, unfortunately, this has as much to do with people's fundamental beliefs as it does with the timing, a political timing, in advance of a midterm election that probably will not slow down. And so I expect these issues to actually gain additional prominence, unfortunately, in large part, because of the political appeal they have and to certain bases.

BAKEMAN: Do you think this decision on the sex ed textbooks would have happened if you were superintendent?

CARVALHO: I think probably the reaction would have been the same, no doubt, just because since the beginning of the pandemic, we saw issues that previously were not politicized, really acquiring new voice.

It started obviously with a masking issue, the politics around vaccination. There was a crescendo of political voice, sometimes detached from science and sometimes embraced by a sect of a political party. That became confusing. I mean, when certain radical groups began to show up at school board meetings, when individuals who didn't even have children in public schools began to show up, sometimes from different counties, just to make their point, y ou knew that this was organized. It was deliberate. And it really had very little to do with education. IT has a lot to do with other elements. So I don't think that I don't think that the opposition or the voice would have been different if I had been there.

BAKEMAN: And I guess what would you tell students in Miami-Dade who are concerned about not having sex education, at least in the short term?

CARVALHO: Never ignore the student voice. The students have voice, particularly students in Miami-Dade. This is a generation that is as aware, if not more aware, than any prior generation. And they understand the value of advocacy.
Copyright 2022 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Jessica Bakeman reports on K-12 and higher education for WLRN, south Florida's NPR affiliate. While new to Miami and public radio, Jessica is a seasoned journalist who has covered education policymaking and politics in three state capitals: Jackson, Miss.; Albany, N.Y.; and, most recently, Tallahassee.