Florida school board members clash over “definition of a woman”

Florida school board members clash over “definition of a woman”

Florida school board members clashed over the “definition of a woman” this week during a tense debate about their district’s sex education curriculum.

Broward County School Board member Brenda Fam demanded to know the district’s curricular definition Tuesday, arguing that parents want clarity on the matter.

“They want to know what the definition is in the sexual education curriculum,” Fam said at the meeting. “Specifically, what individuals can get pregnant and what individuals can give birth?”

Irritated colleague Sarah Leonardi pushed back on the request by claiming Fam was pursuing a “political” agenda.

“The goal of all of us being here is to support children,” she said. “And to educate children. Not to engage in a political line of questioning that distracts from that mission.”

Leonardi also asserted that gender identity discussions was banned in some grades — an apparent reference to recent Florida legislation that barred the topic for kids in kindergarten through the third grade.

But Fam countered that the answers to her questions would determine whether some district parents exit district schools in favor of private or charter options.

“This is going to weigh heavy on them and whether or not they choose to leave the public school system, or whether they stay based on some of these responses,” she continued. “They are very serious. They want answers to these questions.”

Fam noted that she requested the definitions previously but had not received them.

Broward County school board members debate a new sex ed curriculum.
Broward County school board members debate a new sex ed curriculum.
Broward County Schools

Interim Superintendent Earleen Smiley responded that she didn’t know if the curriculum contained gender definitions.

“That question is more than a question,” she said. “It’s a thought process and it’s an examination of a lot of laws based on a lot of things. I’m procrastinating and hesitating because there is no clear cut answer I could give you at this point.”

Fam responded that the terms “man” and “woman” had been used in official proceedings last year.

“At that time it wasn’t very difficult to decide,” she said. “So what has now changed where we don’t recognize what’s a man and what’s a woman?”

Broward County school Board member Brenda Fam.
Board member Brenda Fam requested the district’s definition of a woman.
Facebook/Brenda Fam

Another district staffer said that she would research whether or not the curriculum included gender definitions and report back to the board.

Broward County school board member Sarah Leonardi.
Board member Sarah Leonardi called the question a “distraction.”
Facebook/Sarah Leonardi

Fam asserted that parents had a right to know the district’s position on the polarizing topic.

“I think these are crucial terms,” she contended. “I think they’re actually very basic terms. This shouldn’t be a difficult response.”

The exchange came amid a wider debate over the proposed overhaul of Broward’s sex ed curriculum to make it “abstinence-based.”

The district issued an amended curriculum after receiving a letter from the Florida Department of Education last year directing it to align its sex education with state standards.

The proposed changes would roll back discussion of issues including puberty, HIV/AIDS, sexual molestation and contraception at certain grade levels.

Backers argued that the discussion of sexual topics should fall under the purview of parents.

Opponents of the new plan countered that it would ultimately harm kids by keeping them “ignorant” of sexual health matters.

The board eventually opted to quash the draft and will revisit the subject in the future.

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