Florida schoolkids may have to study ‘threat of communism in the US’

<span>From left, Ron DeSantis with wife, Casey DeSantis, and children Madison and Mason, in Lexington, South Carolina, on 20 January 2024.</span><span>Photograph: Sean Rayford/AP</span>
From left, Ron DeSantis with wife, Casey DeSantis, and children Madison and Mason, in Lexington, South Carolina, on 20 January 2024.Photograph: Sean Rayford/AP
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Kindergartners in Florida might soon be compelled to balance learning their ABCs with lectures on the history of communism, if a Republican proposal moving through the state’s legislature becomes law.

House bill 1349 would also create a “history of communism taskforce”, hand-picked by the Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, to recommend how the subject is presented in classrooms from elementary to high school starting in 2026.

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Two years ago, DeSantis, who has railed against what he sees as indoctrination of students by “liberal elites”, signed into law a bill designating an annual “victims of communism” day, and making at least 45 minutes of instruction on the subject compulsory as a graduation requirement for high schoolers.

The new bill, introduced by the Republican state congressmen Robert Brannan and James Buchanan, would introduce required curriculum about communism for the first time below seventh grade. It has progressed to the pre-kindergarten-through-12th-grade appropriations committee, and faces one more stop in the education and employment committee before a full house reading.

It will require students as young as five to learn about “atrocities committed in foreign countries under the guidance of communism, the philosophy and lineages of communist thought, including cultural Marxism, [and] the increasing threat of communism in the US and [to] our allies through the 20th century”.

A parallel bill in the Florida senate is also advancing, increasing the chances the measure will make it to DeSantis’s desk in some form before the end of the current legislative session on 8 March.

Its text says instruction must be age- and developmentally appropriate, and removes the house bill’s reference to the teaching of “cultural Marxism”, which house Democrats suggested was “politically charged terminology”. It was discussed in the chamber’s education committee this week.

Democratic senator Shevrin Jones questioned why the taskforce making recommendations on curriculum would be appointed solely by DeSantis, who supported his education board’s portrayal of slavery as “beneficial”, and banned African American studies classes from high schools.

Jay Collins, the Republican sponsor of the senate bill, said he was confident “the right type of people” would be involved and that instruction on communism would be “aligned with our values as a state and this nation”.

He said: “Frankly, there is no benefit to communism. Talk to people from Cuba, Venezuela, from the former Soviet bloc states. Talk to the people who fled China, or Vietnam. Understand what that pain looks like.”

Democratic state senator Rosalind Osgood, a former chair of the Broward county school board, said she supported the bill.

“All history has value. History gives us our empirical evidence of things that we’ve done well in our best practices, but it also teaches us our lessons learned that we should never repeat,” she said.

Only one member of the public was present to comment on the bill, which passed the senate committee on a unanimous 10-0 vote.

“I urge you not to take a biased approach,” Victoria Hernandez said. “I understand if you are trying to educate people on specific countries and lived experiences of people under communism, but we should allow children to come to their own beliefs.

“We shouldn’t teach about communism and only speak on the negative aspects of it.”