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Florida Approves Controversial Guidelines for Black History Curriculum. Here’s What to Know

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Florida’s Board of Education approved new guidelines for its Black history curriculum in public schools, earning staunch criticism from activists and teachers in the state.

Corrections made to coursework on Wednesday characterized skills enslaved people learned as potentially beneficial, and added specific descriptions of the massacres of Black Americans.

“The Florida State Board of Education today adopted new African American history standards. In doing so, they confirmed many of the worst fears educators had when the Stop Woke Act was signed into law last year,” the Florida Education Association (FEA), a statewide teachers union, said in a press release Wednesday. “These new standards are a disservice to Florida’s students and are a big step backward for a state that has required teaching African American history since 1994.”

The newest changes are the latest since the Stop Woke Act was enacted in July 2022. That law says discussions about race must be taught in an “objective manner” and should not be “used to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view.” It also states that students should not feel guilty for actions taken in the past by people of their same race or origin.

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The Sunshine State has taken broad measures to adjust its education standards to better match Gov. Ron DeSantis’s vision of a state “where woke goes to die,” which has led to changes in the way public school teachers can discuss race, gender and sexuality.

Gov. DeSantis signed legislation in May barring public colleges from using state or federal funds for diversity efforts. DeSantis also spoke out against the College Board’s Advanced Placement African American Studies pilot class in January, to which he earned support from the state’s education department. They said the course lacked “educational value” and refused to approve the pilot course unless changes—including the removal of topics surrounding reparations and Black Lives Matter—were made.

The Board also approved rules that double down on existing laws regarding bathroom and pronoun use for nonbinary or transgender students and staff, among other changes.

“How can our students ever be equipped for the future if they don’t have a full, honest picture of where we’ve come from?” said FEA president Andrew Spar. “Florida’s students deserve a world-class education that equips them to be successful adults who can help heal our nation’s divisions rather than deepen them.”

Here’s what to know about the new guidelines.

What are the Florida Board of Education’s new guidelines?

As part of the new guidelines, the Board of Education is requiring middle school students to be instructed on how “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

For high school students, the Board of Education will now require certain events like the 1920 Ocoee Massacre to be depicted in a specific way, in this case as an “act of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans.” The Orange County Regional History Center in Florida calls the massacre “the largest incident of voting-day violence in United States history” after dozens of Black people were killed. The guidelines also have similar stipulations for lessons on the Tulsa Race Massacre and Rosewood Race Massacre.

The FEA added further criticism by saying that the new standards teach elementary school students how to identify famous African-American figures, but do not push their knowledge beyond that surface-level history.

While the new regulations still permit teachers to provide instruction about Black history in schools, though the Board opted to do so in a way that the NAACP says “convey a sanitized and dishonest telling of the history of slavery in America.”

“Today’s actions by the Florida state government are an attempt to bring our country back to a 19th century America where Black life was not valued, nor our rights protected. It is imperative that we understand that the horrors of slavery and Jim Crow were a violation of human rights and represent the darkest period in American history,” said NAACP President & CEO Derrick Johnson. “Our children deserve nothing less than truth, justice, and the equity our ancestors shed blood, sweat, and tears for.”

Earlier this year, the state’s Education Department rejected social studies textbooks that encouraged parents to discuss “taking a knee to protest police brutality and racism” with their children when learning about the Pledge of Allegiance, or mentioning the use of mobile devices in capturing the death of George Floyd.

That, among other measures, prompted the NAACP Board of Directors to issue a travel advisory for the state of Florida in May.

“Florida is openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals,” the notice said. “Before traveling to Florida, please understand that the state of Florida devalues and marginalizes the contributions of, and the challenges faced by African Americans and other communities of color.”

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