JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida’s Board of Education approved a proposal Thursday that specifies how American history should be taught in public schools and outright bans the teaching of “critical race theory” in Florida classrooms.
The original rule change proposal, which bars teachers from attempting “...to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view,” did not mention “critical race theory” specifically, but the language was added in an amendment offered by Board member Tom Grady during Thursday’s meeting at FSCJ’s downtown campus in Jacksonville.
Andrew Spar, head of the Florida Education Association, said not only was the proposed change political but also unnecessary because critical race theory is not taught in Florida schools.
RELATED: Critical race theory discussed during Baker County meeting with state education officials
“Let’s be clear, the word ‘indoctrination’ is a political term used for political purposes,” Spar said. “And that’s what this rule is all about.”
According to Poynter.org, a nonprofit Journalism education organization, critical race theory holds that racism is part of a broader pattern in America and that systemic racism is so prevalent in society that it’s woven into laws and affects “who gets a job interview, the sort of home loans people are offered, how they are treated by police, and other facets of daily life large and small.”
#DEVELOPING: A packed room at June’s State Board of Education meeting. @GovRonDeSantis appears via video conference. The governor is talking about critical race theory and stated history is not taught factually. It’s difficult to hear him. @wjxt4 pic.twitter.com/xpdSIugw7V— Zachery Lashway (@ZachLashway) June 10, 2021
Gov. Ron DeSantis, who spoke to the state board at the start of Thursday’s meeting, countered Spar’s argument that CRT isn’t taught in Florida schools with a news release citing three instances of what he called “attempts to teach CRT in Florida,” including one in Jacksonville.
DeSantis said a situation earlier this year at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts involving the school planning to hold two school cultural meetings in which students would be separated based on race was an attempt to teach CRT, although CRT was never mentioned. The meetings were canceled amid backlash and the school’s principal underwent diversity training after the uproar.
The other examples DeSantis cited for teaching CRT in Florida were in Palm Beach County and Sarasota County.
During his remarks to the Board on Thursday, DeSantis called critical race theory toxic and divisive, saying it forces students to think about their skin color rather than the content of their character and “what they’re trying to accomplish in life.”
READ: Florida DOE’s proposed rule changes
The FEA, the state’s largest teachers union, had asked for the word “indoctrinate” to be removed and for other historical events to be added to the language of the rule change, including slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction, to name a few.
“Those are important parts of our history,” Spar said. “Those are certainly not parts of our history that we all may think are great, but they are parts of our history and things we should learn from.”
The word indoctrinate was not removed, but Grady’s amendment to the proposal (read below) did add language specifically addressing teaching the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Civil Rights movement and other key parts of U.S. history.
READ: FEA’s recommendations for changes made to DOE’s proposal
Instruction on the required topics must be factual and objective, and may not suppress or distort significant historical events, such as the Holocaust, slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Civil Rights movement and the contributions of women, African American and Hispanic people to our country as already provided in section 1003.42 of Florida Statutes. Examples of theories that distort historical events and are inconsistent with State Board approved standards include the denial or minimization of the Holocaust and the teaching of “critical race theory,” meaning the theory that racism is not merely a product of prejudice but that racism is embedded in American society and its legal systems in order to uphold the supremacy of white persons. Instruction may not utilize material from the 1619 Project and may not define American history as something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence. Instruction must include the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments.Amended section of proposal approved by Florida Board of Education
In encouraging the Board to adopt the rule change, DeSantis mentioned that Florida already requires that the history of slavery, the Civil War, the Civil Rights movement and the Holocaust are all taught in schools.
“We’ve got to have an education system that is preferring fact over narrative,” DeSantis said. “When it departs from a historical record and then when it goes into trying to create narratives that basically are teaching kids that the country is rotten and that our institutions are illegitimate, that is not worth any taxpayer dollars. It’s wrong and it’s not something that we should do.”
Quisha King is co-chair for the Northeast Florida division of Moms for Liberty.
“I think all American history—the good, bad and ugly—should be taught in history class,” King said. “Though critical race theory does not do that.”
King believes those who support critical race theory do not have a full understanding of what it is. She says the theory has less to do with history and instead, teaches a racial hierarchy of sorts.
“Critical race theory is teaching that if you have a certain color skin, you are automatically deemed an oppressor,” King said. “And if you do not fall into that category—typically it’s white, male, heterosexual, able-bodied, along those lines—if you don’t fall into that, you are then deemed the oppressed. And if you are the oppressor, you have to apologize.”
RELATED: St. Johns County residents speak out against critical race theory. The district doesn’t teach it
An eighth grade Duval County student that supports critical race theory spoke during the meeting.
“We need critical race theory in the classrooms. Period,” the student said. “When people are too afraid to have the conversations, how will we ever progress? Teaching students about CRT takes away the fear factor and allows a safe space for conversation. If we know better, we do better.”
Before the Board’s vote on Thursday, the Florida Department of Education released a statement which said in part:
“Students need to have a clear understanding of their role in society and be ready to fully engage in their local, state, and national governments. Ideological theories have no place in our classrooms. The Governor has been very clear that teachers need to be teaching students how to think -- not what to think. He is committed to ensuring that every student is provided a world-class education that prepares them for future success.”
Before the meeting, a protest spearheaded by the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville took place. Ben Frazier with the Coalition said in a statement: “This proposal is an effort to whitewash history by preventing teachers from teaching the truth about slavery, racism and other racial matters. It is a political propaganda campaign being directed by the governor. Teachers should be allowed to teach the truth.”
During the public comment portion of the meeting, Frazier ended his time by chanting, “Allow teachers to teach the truth” with his fist raised until he was escorted from the room.
#BREAKING: The Florida State Board of Education passed the following amendment to 6A-1.094124 Required Instruction Planning and Reporting. These are specificities of what can and cannot be taught in Florida classrooms. Read highlighted text. @wjxt4 pic.twitter.com/Am5erl8RzE— Zachery Lashway (@ZachLashway) June 10, 2021
Responses from local districts
The decision of the Florida State Board of Education today does not impact the district’s instructional program.
Duval County Public Schools continues to build on a strong tradition of teaching American history. We also offer African American history both as an independent course elective at the high school level and as an important topic integrated through other curriculum including social studies, English language arts, and courses across grade levels.
The district follows all required statutes and rules regarding standards and curriculum. Critical Race Theory, as an independent topic, is not included in state standards or state approved curriculum. The district remains committed to intellectual integrity and strengthening critical thinking skills of all students through the approved curriculum and its applications.
Additionally, the district has recently been recertified as an “Exemplary School District” by the Florida Commissioner of Education’s African American History Task Force for adhering to the state’s required instruction of the history of African peoples and contributions of African Americans to society.
St. Johns County
“We teach the state standards aligned with our curriculum and pacing guides. CRT is not a standard,” Superintendent Tim Forson said.