Florida bans critical race theory from classrooms

Florida bans critical race theory from classrooms
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Florida’s educators were banned Thursday from teaching history in a way that portrays the U.S. as overly racist, an action that brought howls of protest from people who believe the state is trying to scrub the past.

At the request of Gov. Ron DeSantis, the state Board of Education prohibited the teaching of “critical race theory,” an idea that racism is rooted in the major institutions of the country. Although Florida school districts say they don’t teach the theory, DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran say it’s embedded into some academic lessons as well as efforts to promote diversity and anti-racism.

The board’s action comes at a time when race relations remain volatile across the country, with Black and progressive leaders pushing for more open discussion about the way people of color have been treated throughout history. They believe that the opposition to critical race theory has turned education into a political tool pandering to right-wing voters.

Conservatives assert that lessons about race too often cast America in a poor light and divide society. They have adopted critical race theory as a rallying point, even in states like Florida where it is not officially taught.

DeSantis cited an initial policy statement approved in early May by the Palm Beach County School Board to help minimize “white advantage,” which he characterized as an attempt to promote critical race theory. The School Board removed the language three weeks later after vehement complaints from residents who assailed the board as communists and Nazis.

DeSantis described critical race theory as a way to “teach kids to hate our country.” His supporters on the board said the new rule will focus on teaching historical facts, not theories.

“The woke class wants to teach kids to hate each other, rather than teaching them how to read, but we will not let them bring nonsense ideology into Florida’s schools,” DeSantis said in a statement. “As the Governor of Florida, I love this state, and I love my country. ... I’m proud that we are taking action today to ensure our state continues to have the greatest educational system in the nation.”

The new rule also prohibits teachers from being able to “indoctrinate” students with their political beliefs, something teachers say they avoid.

K-12 Chancellor Jacob Oliva said teachers will be expected to accurately teach about slavery, segregation and other important historical events. He said the change will require they stick to Florida standards, rather than their own political views.

“You may have a teacher go rogue with unfactual truths about certain historical events and telling students this what I believe and they should believe it, too,” he said. “It doesn’t happen a lot, but there are instances where someone presents false truths.”

It’s an unwelcome change for some educators as well as Black and progressive leaders, who accuse the state of trying to minimize blights in history like slavery and segregation, as well as current efforts to promote diversity and fight racism.

“While everyone agrees that no teacher should push their own personal views or beliefs that are subjective, this decision treads dangerously close to restricting the instruction of objective facts that some in political circles may seek to suppress,” said Justin Katz, president of the Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association.

Katz said he fears this decision “is being used to snuff out any and all conversations about equity, race and racism in our schools.”

But Roberto Roberto Fernandez, who teaches Black history at Plantation High, said he doesn’t see the new rule affecting him.

“The reality is most teachers don’t teach critical race theory in the way it’s being discussed, so I’m not worried about it,” he said. “It would be extremely difficult for the state to micromanage how history is taught. It just seems like a political move.”

A Broward school website called “Young Voices Matter” lists at least one resource that will now be banned from classrooms: the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which sought to “reframe” American history by putting slavery “at the very center of our national narrative.” The Pulitzer Prize-winning project faced fierce criticism from former President Donald Trump and some historians.

The Broward website includes a disclaimer that “a program, book, article, movie, or website being mentioned here does not imply endorsement by the School Board of Broward County and does not necessarily reflect its views.”

”The District will examine all of the decisions of the State Board of Education to determine any impact those may have on our instructional resources, curriculum, pedagogy or other practices,” said a statement from the office of Kathy Koch, chief communications officer for Broward Schools.

Leaders in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties say there’s nothing in the new rule that should change how they teach civics.

“The School District of Palm Beach County has taught, and will continue to teach, the standards as adopted by the Florida Department of Education,” said Claudia Shea, a spokeswoman for Palm Beach County schools.

More than 30 impassioned speakers for and against the change spoke at a Board of Education meeting in Jacksonville, both making accusations of racism.

Those supporting the proposal said critical race theory is “racist and Marxist,” teaching Black students they are victims. Opponents argued the state is trying to erase the struggles and accomplishments of Blacks from history.

Jacksonville activist Ben Frazier, after comparing DeSantis to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini, initially refused to leave the podium after his allowed two minutes of speaking time expired.

“This is a deliberate plan to politicize and whitewash,” Frazier said. “We say allow teachers to teach the truth.”

Those siding with Frazier echoed repeated loud chants of “Allow teachers to teach the truth,” causing chairman Andy Tuck to briefly recess the meeting.

Orlando Sentinel staff writer Leslie Postal contributed to this report.

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