Misinformation overwhelms Miami-Dade school district ahead of vote on anti-racism lessons

Miami-Dade School Board member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall speaks at a 2017 news conference. Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho stands behind her.
·5 min read

The Miami-Dade County School Board was the target of a viral misinformation campaign that tried to stoke fears of a board member’s proposal to explore an anti-racism curriculum in the public schools.

School board members said they received hundreds of calls and written comments filled with falsehoods, with many echoing the same misinformation on social media and radio waves.

Board members ultimately voted to approve the proposal 8-1 after recounting how they and their aides were inundated with calls and emails, many profane and ridden with lies, a day or so ahead of the vote.

Posts on Facebook and WhatsApp referenced by School Board members and found by the Miami Herald were full of untruths and boogeymen. They said the board wanted to incorporate a class called “Institutional Racism” based on the principles of Black Lives Matter. They included phone numbers for board members and an email address to send comments.

The posts also preyed on homophobic fears, saying the new courses would focus on homosexuality, transgender people and that “children should have the right to choose how and with whom to live.” The viral posts, which shared much of the same language and appeared to be at least partially copy/pasted, said the curriculum would involve re-educating teachers to teach new courses.

None of that is true. Board member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall’s proposal called on the school district to review curriculum-based options that address racism and cultural understanding, establish a student-led task force that reported to the board and develop or enhance anti-racism curriculum.

Chair Perla Tabares Hantman said she sent home three “exhausted” receptionists who fielded more than 400 phone calls. She estimated 70% to 80% included misinformation and were offensive.

“It’s a kind of a campaign that took place, to me it’s something I haven’t heard in many, many years and I’ve been here 24 1/2 years on the school board,” she said. “This is something unreasonable, very offensive and totally not deserving to any of us. All we’re trying to do is protect our children, to do what is best for our children. All children.”

Board members said they were collecting information and were interested in tracing back the misinformation to a single source.

“I have not seen a strategic campaign against a board member’s item — of a board’s item — of this nature,” said vice chair Steve Gallon. “They were strategically planted. I’m proud to say those seeds of division have failed. Those chickens will come home to roost.”

Board member Lubby Navarro said there was “noise in the community” to “incite confusion.”

“We’ve all been victims of an erroneous misinformation campaign targeted to undermine this item,” she said.

Mari Tere Rojas rattled off the misinformation that came her way.

“No curriculum is being recommended for approval in this item,” she said. “There’s no emergency vote that is taken here today and this is not an emergency meeting. This is a regular meeting that was regularly advertised. There are no class mandates that are being proffered or discussed.”

Marta Perez, the sole dissenting board member, said she found it “funny” how board members took offense to disparaging responses they received.

“I’m the one person that did not support the item. And I believe I received more hate mail than any of you,” she said. “’Go back to Cuba,’ calling me every name. It’s very funny how offended everyone is where different points of view are expressed.”

Perez made headlines last week for being the only board member to not support Bendross-Mindingall’s item when it was first introduced in School Board committee meetings. She said then that the school district should focus solely on academics. She said Wednesday that the school district had existing initiatives that emphasized inclusion.

Superintendent Alberto Carvalho confirmed the deluge of hurtful falsehoods.

“Hundreds of calls have been fielded up here in this office yesterday and today as well, frankly with the characterization of many of us, including me, that was less than tasteful, very often insulting and breaching some of the values that we profess,” he said.

After spending almost an hour listening to about 30 written public comments about the proposal submitted by the School Board’s Monday deadline, the board deliberated over whether to allow 207 comments submitted after the deadline. At 6:15 p.m. Wednesday, the board voted 5-4 to not hear those late comments but had them entered into the record.

Earlier in the meeting, the board did vote to hear about a dozen comments submitted after the deadline for a proposal to name two new schools in Doral. The board approved naming a new K-8 school after Andrea Castillo, the late daughter of board member Susie Castillo who aspired to be a teacher before she was killed in a car accident, and naming a new high school after Juan Carlos Bermudez, the founding mayor of Doral.

In a split vote, the board decided to not hear the late public comments about the anti-racism curriculum proposal. Navarro vowed to bring forth a proposal that would address equity when allowing late public comments.

“You cannot do it for one item and not the other,” she said.

Bendross-Mindingall ultimately decided against spending hours listening to the public comments submitted after the deadline.

“It is hard to take a stance that talks about the wrongs of 400-plus years,” she said. “And I know people are going to say, ‘I didn’t do it. It’s not my fault.’ No, but it’s wrong. It’s wrong. We all played a role. What is it that we do? What do we tell our children? How do [we] explain to them the world is on fire?”

“I know why we got 200-plus letters. I know.”