‘Inflammatory and sexualized:’ Florida pushes school districts to drop CDC youth risk survey

OCPS has participated in CDC grant since 2001

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County Public Schools will no longer participate in an annual national study charting risky behaviors in students, according to correspondence from the Florida Department of Education thanking the district for the change and criticizing the survey.

At the district’s board meeting Tuesday, members discussed a letter sent from FDOE to Orange County Superintendent Dr. Maria Vasquez addressing the district’s discontinued participation in the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), part of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant which OCPS has participated in since 2001.

The YRBSS incorporates a questionnaire — administered with parental permission procedures — about six types of behaviors that the CDC states “contribute to the leading causes of death and disability among youth and adults,” listed below:

  • Behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries and violence
  • Sexual behaviors related to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection
  • Alcohol and other drug use
  • Tobacco use
  • Unhealthy dietary behaviors
  • Inadequate physical activity

In addition to these categories, the survey also seeks to measure “the prevalence of obesity and asthma and other health-related behaviors plus sexual identity and sex of sexual contact,” according to the CDC.

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Results from the 2021 survey — a 92-item questionnaire completed by 1,441 respondents — show the latest snapshot of these health-related trends as reported by OCPS high school students, including any upward or downward mobility:

  • 21.9% of respondents seriously considered attempting suicide (up 2.9% from 2019)
  • 17.1% made a plan to commit suicide (up 1.3% from 2019)
  • 45.2% had not been taught about AIDS or HIV infection in school (up 10.3% from 2019)
  • 4% identified as transgender (new statistic)
  • 73.8% had not eaten breakfast for at least seven days in a row (up 3.7% from 2019)
  • 31.7% had tried e-cigarette products (down 12% from 2019)
  • 12.8% had taken prescription pain medication without a doctor’s prescription (down 1.3% from 2019)
  • 26.9% described themselves as slightly or very overweight (down 2.4% from 2019)
  • 12.5% reported eight or more hours of sleep per night (up 1% from 2019)
  • 15.2% missed school because they felt unsafe on school property (down 2.1% from 2019)

See more from the 2021 survey results by clicking here.

In Duval County, Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene received a letter from Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. last week imploring the district to end its participation in the survey with claims its questions are “inflammatory and sexualized” and presented in ways “that may actually introduce risky behaviors to students.”

The district was also notified that the Florida Department of Health was terminating a contract with Duval County Public Schools for providing data collection and evaluation for the survey; as such, the 2023 survey will no longer be conducted there, according to News 6 partner News4JAX.

In May 2022, then-interim education commissioner Jacob Oliva described how Florida would develop its own survey as it sought even then to abandon the CDC’s questionnaire, stating the data was still useful in helping schools and society address at-risk children and/or those in need, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

News 6 obtained a copy of the letter sent by FDOE to Superintendent Vasquez, dated Feb. 13, which can be read below.

In it, though Diaz again describes the survey as “inflammatory and sexualized” and promises a state-developed version “aligned to state standards” to be administered in the spring, the commissioner said he was pleased to have heard OCPS discontinued its participation in the YRBSS.

“Given that the FDOE already has a workgroup designing a survey that is more appropriate for Florida’s high school students to be administered this spring, participating in the CDC survey is duplicative and unnecessary,” Diaz wrote. “The primary focus of your district should be to educate children using standards-aligned instruction and to assist Florida’s students in avoiding risky behaviors instead of exposing them to sexually explicit concepts.”

We have reached out to OCPS and FDOE for further comment. This story will be updated with that information if it comes to us.

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About the Author:

Brandon, a UCF grad, joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021. Before joining News 6, Brandon worked at WDBO.