Facing accusations of whitewashing history after his administration blocked a new Black studies course for high-achieving high schoolers, Gov. Ron DeSantis has countered that Florida students already must learn about the triumphs and plight of African Americans.
“The state of Florida education standards not only don’t prevent, but they require teaching Black history,” DeSantis said last week. “All the important things, that’s part of our core curriculum.”
Indeed, Florida has required its schools to teach African American history since 1994, long before the recent push in many states to move toward a more complete telling of the country’s story. The stated goal at the time was to introduce the Black experience to a generation of young people. That included DeSantis himself, then a student in Florida’s public school system when the mandate became law.
But nearly three decades later, advocates say many Florida schools are failing to teach that history. Only 11 of the state’s 67 county school districts meet all of the benchmarks for teaching Black history set by the African American History Task Force, a state board created to help school districts abide by the mandate. Many schools only cover the topic during Black History Month in February, said Bernadette Kelley-Brown, the principal investigator for the task force.
“The idea that every Florida student learns African American history, it’s not reality,” Kelley-Brown said. “Some districts don’t even realize it’s required instruction.”
The persistent focus in Florida on instruction of African American topics comes as DeSantis has partially built his Republican stardom by targeting public schools for signs of progressive ideologies. His administration has forced K-12 schools to comb their textbooks and curriculum for any evidence of Critical Race Theory or related topics and he championed a new law that puts guardrails on lessons about racism and oppression. Both measures were cited in the state’s decision last month to block a new Advanced Placement class on African American Studies from Florida high schools. (On Wednesday, the College Board, which oversees AP courses and exams, released an updated framework of African American Studies class that did not include many of the authors and topics DeSantis had objected to. His administration said it was reviewing the changes to see if the course now complies with state law.)
Black Democratic lawmakers say the state Department of Education under DeSantis has shown far more zeal in enforcing these new restrictions on how race can be taught in schools than the state, in almost 30 years, has ever demonstrated toward ensuring that Black history is taught at all.
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