I want to do a quick calendar check this Wednesday, February 1st. Of course, that's the start of Black History Month. You're going to see a lot of special programs in schools. But in the state of Florida, one new Black history course is off limits, at least for now.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is back in the headlines for doing what he does best picking fights and waging culture wars.
The Republican governor says a new advanced placement course in African-American studies is full of topics that push a political agenda and so public high schools won't be allowed to offer.
He says Florida's current standards for teaching black history are, quote, cut and dried history, and that multiple lessons in that particular course go too far.
My guest this week is CNN correspondent Leyla Santiago, who's based in Florida. We talk about how what's going on There is just one piece of the puzzle in this new era of partisan education and how it's impacting parents, teachers and students all across the country from CNN. This is One Thing I'm David Rind.
Leyla. It seems like every few weeks I see a new headline about Florida and schools. And the latest involves this dustup over a proposed advanced placement course. Right. Like, what's going on here?
So this is an AP course which is set by the College Board. That's a nonprofit organization that has always for decades managed this. And essentially, Governor Ron DeSantis said, no, thank you. It's a piloted course. They spent about ten years coming up with this African American studies, A.P. course. 60 schools doing it. They plan to add additional hundreds of schools in the upcoming year, and then it'll be available for any school who wants to add this to their app coursework in 2024. But given what we have seen in Florida, especially with a large parents rights movement, as they call it, a lot of people are not liking some of the things that are in this course as proposed.
Gov. Ron DeSantis
And the issue is we have guidelines and standards in Florida. We want education, not indoctrination. If you fall on the side of indoctrination, we're going to decline.
So Governor Ron DeSantis said this could be a violation or is a violation of Florida state law because they don't like some of the topics in there.
Do we know what's actually going to be taught?
Yeah. So the state gave Steve Contorno my lovely and talented colleague the syllabus.
Gov. Ron DeSantis
This course on black history, what are one, what's one of the lessons about queer theory. Now who would say that an important part of black history is queer theory? That is somebody pushing an agenda on our kids.
And in it they point out black feminism, black queer studies, the reparations movement, and they say, look, this is ideology that we don't want in the classroom.
Gov. Ron DeSantis
And that's what our standards for for black history are. It's just cut and dried history. You learn all the basics. You learn about the great figures. And, you know, I view it as American history. I don't view it as separate history.
There's a sort of a chart that was tweeted out by the education commissioner that that highlights specific things. A lot of these are readings that are included, readings by authors like Kimberlé Crenshaw, very much tied to CRT critical race theory, which in itself you'll get a different definition of what that is depending on who you ask. So, you know, much of this is tied to a very small portion of a large syllabus from a framework of the course that hasn't really even been completely finished yet.
By rejecting the African-American history pilot program, Ron DeSantis has clearly demonstrated that he wants to dictate whose story does and doesn't belong.
So the AP says that February 1st is going to be a big day because that's when they're going to release the final framework of this course. And we will see from there what has changed. The AP has said that they are willing to take feedback and make adjustments and quite frankly, has also pointed out that that's comment.
And now we've been told that this AP African-American history course will be altered and resubmitted, and most likely they'll make enough changes for the governor to approve it. But at what cost? And are we really okay with Ron DeSantis deciding what's acceptable for America students across the country about black history.
So Florida has said if changes are made, will reconsider. But that's going to be the big question is what does this look like come February 1st?
Right. And it's also it's an elective class, so it's not like every student would be forced to take it. You mentioned critical race theory a little while ago. So this is not the same thing, right?
That depends on who you ask. Right. But but according to the College Board and the people who spent, again, years working on this, they say, look, this is not CRT, this is not the 1619 project. Two things that Governor DeSantis would would really take issue with.
Gov. Ron DeSantis
Florida is where woke goes to die.
When the Stop Woke Act was passed. CRT was a big part of that, which the stop blowback basically says they're going to kind of limit how race is talked about, because in the state of Florida, you can't teach race in any way that sort of makes anyone feel guilty or oppressed.
Gov. Ron DeSantis
Teaching kids to hate their country and to hate each other is not worth one red cent of taxpayer money.
The target of that was was CRT, which CRT, by the way, is a historical look at systematic racism and how its impacts are ongoing. You are still here today. It is typically taught in law school, which is something that you will hear a lot of people say. But wait a minute, this is this.
Isn't in my kids. Yeah, fifth grade class.
Right? But sometimes I have found when I talk to people that it kind of can be a substitute for just conversations about race. And I'll add to this, you know, a lot of this kind of came about with Glenn Youngkin in Virginia, right? I mean, we saw that education and what was happening in the kids classroom really was a powerful tool in the ballot box. And so DeSantis is also using education as a major part of his platform.
So, Leyla, how else has Ron Desantis and the Republican legislature there in Florida kind of changed the way schools operate down there?
You know, over the past two years, you have some pretty big portions of legislation that have been very controversial, right? You have the Parental Rights Act in education, which critics dubbed the "don't say gay" law. You have the Stop Woke Act, which limits how race is discussed in the classroom. Both of these now at the center of lawsuits that we'll have to wait and see how that plays out. But, you know, these are all very much using education as the platform in politics. And as I've been watching school board meetings now, these are supposed to be in the state of Florida, nonpartizan positions to be a school board member. That's not necessarily what we're seeing now. You know, just last year, Governor Ron DeSantis endorsed a good chunk of candidates made financial donations to their campaigns. And most of those candidates took home the win. So you have school board members now that are that were endorsed by Governor Ron DeSantis, who are now in that conversation in that space about an AP course on African-American studies about how race is, discuss about what books are, quote, age appropriate. So, you know, this this has become political in the classroom.
So how is this all playing out for students? Like how do they feel about this AP African-American history course potentially being blocked?
I sat down with two young men and two moms. All live in Florida. They are Black. And they also went on these tours called "Teach the Truth Tours" with Dr. Marvin Dunn. And this is a professor who has taken it upon himself to make sure that students learn the truth as he teaches it in his own classrooms. And so they went to places like Rosewood to learn about African-American history and things that you typically wouldn't learn about. They've been to lynching sites that don't come up in a classroom. And it's just so fascinating to me because when you hear from these 14 year old young black men, they will say to you, we want to learn about this. Why aren't we learning more about this beyond the month of February? We are more than Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks and Frederick Douglass. I mean, by no means did anyone minimize the contributions and the stories of those legendary names, but they they were hungry for more and they wanted that to be a part of the classroom.
They get a sense that there are, like really painful stories that are core to their heritage, their identity, that just aren't being talked about in class.
Core to their story, The African-American story, the history of it is, is not something that is always expanded upon. And it was really interesting because I was speaking to this mom and this son and just on a generational level, right, Mom? Mom was like, we never talked about this in my class. And son was was learning about it for the first time in a different way. So it was a fascinating conversation. And when I would ask them why it was so important for them to see a course like this, they they said, you know, history repeats itself, right? That was the fear. And they were very much wanting to make sure that this course was available because they wanted to ensure that in this case, history does not repeat itself.
So how else are these laws playing out on the ground? You mentioned there's these new guidelines over what books are, quote, age appropriate. How exactly does that work?
So part of that guidance was that libraries and reading materials also applies to classroom libraries. So teachers now have to make sure that all of the books are vetted. Now, there's a database they can catalog the book, and if the books are ready, gotten the green light, put the book right on the shelf, it's available to students. If it's not, then it must be vetted by a library specialist and one that has been trained by the Department of Education. And the teachers are basically saying some of them anyway, are saying, look, we're overwhelmed. We don't have time to catalog every single book and then send what's not already vetted to a library specialist who may also be overwhelmed. And so we don't know how long that will take. So some teachers said that what they did was they just covered the books so that they wouldn't have to deal with that because of...
Physically covered them up. So kids can't see what's on the shelf.
Yeah, there's no access to them in some classrooms.
We were instructed last week. We were essentially had three choices as far as our personal libraries that are in our classrooms. We could remove them completely, box them up. We could cover them up with paper or some sort of something.
And so the fear among some teachers is that there is a pretty stiff penalty for a violation. The violation of this is a third degree felony. So teachers that I've spoken to say we're not looking to face that. So we're just going to block access by covering the books. Until we can handle that.
Anytime you restrict access to information, to knowledge, it's censorship. There's not I don't think there's any other way to categorize it.
Now, the school district is saying, look, we did not tell any teachers to shut down any classrooms. We simply said these books must be vetted because it is now state law. If the book is appropriate, it will go right back on the shelf. If not, it will be poured. I read this book when I was 18. Our seniors are 18. They're not minors, they're adults. Such was the case in Pinellas County. So we're talking about the St Petersburg area where Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Right. A Nobel Prize author. They deemed that to be inappropriate and that book was pulled, which caused a bit of a debate. I mean, there was one parent in particular that was very passionate when she spoke about wanting that book to be available in the classroom library. I would not suggest banning books. It's a slippery slope. This is good literature with value. Please do not ban books. But for the parents in favor of this, for them, it's about look.
There is appropriateness and there is inappropriateness.
If there is a reading material in in the classroom that was put out there, I should know what is in my child's classroom. And I should know that somebody scrutinized that, went through it, knows what's in it and actually saw it about is it appropriate or not?
You cannot substitute adult supervision. You just cannot. Adult supervision. Parents, whether it be a guardian or grandparent, have to be aware of what the child is being taught.
So what you've been talking about here, Layla, this parents rights movement, the politicization of school boards. Is this just a Florida thing or are we seeing this elsewhere in other states?
Leyla Santiago (interview)
What's next for this movement?
A an improvement in our education and the quality of education for our children.
I mean, I sat down with the Moms for Liberty months ago when I started to notice that many of the parents that were speaking across the country in school boards were kind of repeating some of the same things. And they would wear shirts that say, "I don't co-parent with the government."
What you're seeing as a response to incredible government overreach that's existed in public education, and it's really a shame.
I remember I was talking to one school board member out of the Keys, Monroe County, and he said to me, he said, "Man, remember the days when school board meetings used to just be boring?" And I, I sort of laughed because school board meetings forever have been really long procedural meetings. And now, you know, you see school boards that that have added extra security just for the meetings because of how heated they can become for a lot of topics that, of course, are near and dear to parents because you're talking about children, but also things that have become platforms in political campaigns.
Leyla, it's great reporting. Thanks so much. Really appreciate it.
One Thing is a production of CNN Audio. This episode was produced by Paola Ortiz and me. David Rind. Matt Dempsey is our production manager. Faiz Jamil is our senior producer. Greg Peppers is our supervising producer. And Abbie Fentress Swanson is the executive producer of CNN Audio. As always, you can leave a rating and a review on Apple Podcasts. It really helps us grow the show, and that's what we're all about here. Thanks for listening. And we'll be back next Sunday. Talk to you then.