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Florida will track youth behavior on its own after rejecting CDC survey

‘The No, 1 priority we have is meeting the needs of our students,’ interim education commissioner Jacob Oliva said.
Interim education commissioner Jacob Oliva, then Florida K-12 chancellor, updates the State Board of Education on March 19, 2019, about efforts to review and revise state academic standards.
Interim education commissioner Jacob Oliva, then Florida K-12 chancellor, updates the State Board of Education on March 19, 2019, about efforts to review and revise state academic standards. [ The Florida Channel ]
Published May 6

The Florida Department of Education recently said it would stop using the federal government’s biannual survey of youth behaviors such as drug use and sexual activity.

The move prompted an outcry from behavioral specialists and mental health experts, who said the state needs the information — perhaps now more than ever.

In recent years, data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey has highlighted the vulnerability of LGBTQ children and teens, providing guidance for school officials as they fashion services and programs.

Interim Florida education commissioner Jacob Oliva said Friday that the department has no intention of ending the collection of such data, which he noted has supported the creation of programs advocated by Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis. Having the information over time helps schools and society better serve children in need, he said.

Related: Pasco schools to revamp sex education curriculum

“There is value in asking a variety of questions,” Oliva said. “We need to be collecting data to keep all of our students safe, regardless of their sexual orientation, regardless of what programs they are in.

He anticipated that most, if not all, the questions in the survey conducted with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would continue in whatever version Florida ends up with. But first, Oliva said, the department wants to ensure that its effort is efficient and effective — something he said state officials have not reviewed in years.

As the department prepared this year to deliver a survey to school administrators, he explained, some staff members raised the question about why it was doing so and how the information was used. That conversation led to a broader discussion about the several surveys that the department uses for employees and students, he said.

Oliva said he did not know of any specific complaints about the questions on the survey, noting that participation was voluntary so anyone who objected to the inquiries could decline. The goal, he said, was to make sure if the state asks schools to take time away from learning, it’s for something meaningful and useful.

State officials also want the collected information to be more tailored to Florida, he added.

“We want to make sure that we can meet the needs of our stakeholders here in Florida, ask questions that are specific to Florida,” Oliva said, likening the activity to the state’s recent move to adopt new academic standards.

He expected to convene a task force that includes students, parents, teachers, medical professionals and others to review all surveys and streamline them into one. The endeavor would include looking at surveys and data from other states, he said, to ensure Florida isn’t missing anything.

As far as the need to reinvent something the CDC already is doing, Oliva said, “We can use our own experts right here in the state of Florida to review the survey and collect the data.”

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State officials have criticized the CDC since the start of the pandemic, frequently saying Florida would go its own way on issues such as masking rather than follow the agency’s guidance.

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