TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) — Florida's Board of Education approved tougher guidelines on Thursday for how teachers will address American history by becoming the latest state to ban "critical race theory" from public schools.
At the opening of their meeting in Jacksonville, Gov. Ron DeSantis urged board members to prohibit the teaching of "critical race theory" in the state's public schools.
Addressing the board by video, the Republican governor said students should be served with fact-based curricula, not "not trying to indoctrinate them with ideology."
Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho issued a statement saying his district will follow the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards for Social Studies.
"We have great respect for our teachers who can convey this information to their students in a non-biased way. As such, adopted instructional materials and teacher professional development are centered around student mastery of these standards. We understand the value in learning about the struggles and sacrifices that have been made in this country throughout our nation's history and confirm that within the existing history standards, such instruction is expected and appropriate. In addition, there is School Board policy in Miami-Dade that protects against any type of biased teaching of any subject."
Broward County Public Schools said in a statement that it does not teach "Critical Race Theory."
DeSantis has made a major issue of targeting critical race theory, which is based on the premise that racism is embedded within American society and institutions.
Ben Frazier, president of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, said the plan is a "Republican political propaganda campaign" and said teachers need to be able to teach the truth about slavery and other racial issues.
"This board should stop attempting to sanitize and to clear up the ugly horrors of history that make white folks feel uncomfortable," Frazier, who is Black, said.
The rule, in part, says teachers "may not define American history as something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence."
It also says teachers facilitating discussions can't "share their personal views or attempt to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view" that is inconsistent with state standards.
Before giving final approval Thursday, the board adopted additions that, in part, included references to instruction on the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Also, the additions more specifically addressed that critical race theory should not be taught.
Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran supported the changes proposed by board member Tom Grady, saying they would help provide clarity to teachers.
"It's a great, transparent way for teachers to understand exactly what this board is saying and to be able to read it and to know they are protected," Corcoran said.
The rule has spurred statewide controversy, with Grady saying members' "inboxes were blowing up with comments from people."
That was evident as board members listened to the public at Thursday's meeting. Speakers on each side cited the need to teach historical facts --- but clearly disagreed on what those facts might be.
Opponents of the rule argued that it is designed to prevent teachers from giving a full picture of issues such as slavery, lynching, and segregation. Speaker Wells Tood said the rule was an attempt to censor teachers.
"Teaching the facts will bring the country together, not divide the country," Todd, a member of groups such as the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition, told the board. "And the only reason that I can see that y'all don't want that to happen is because you are ashamed of the history."
But supporters of the bill said critical race theory needs to be blocked, with several describing it as Marxist.
"We all know it's a Marxist tactic to divide our country by class and by race," said Bennett Brown, a Duval County resident and board member of the Florida Family Policy Council.
Brown urged the teaching of "the truth about the history of our country. Truth and facts. … As you all know, our history has got good and bad and ugly. But we ought to teach the truth and that the United States of America is a great and wonderful land with freedom for all. Please teach that."
On Thursday afternoon, Florida US Senator Marco Rubio had this to say about the issue:
"I think this is hysteria. I think that this is a part of a broader hysteria but also a concerted effort to rewrite the story of America. Critical Race Theory at its core is basically a theory that teaches that Americans are divided between oppressors and oppressed. Oppressors, even though you may not have individually oppressed anybody, [are] inherently evil and need to apologize for things that people did in the past that you had nothing to do with. The oppressed never do anything wrong. And it constantly divides American in these two classes.
"It goes on to tell the story that America for two hundred and forty years has been a symbol of hatred, prejudice, bigotry, white patriarchy, and things of this nature. Not only is it an inaccurate reading of our history, but I actually think it is indoctrination all headed towards a political aim. This is a crazy faculty club theory just ten years ago that now finds itself in the curriculum of our public school systems across the country."
(©2021 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida's Jim Saunders contributed to this report.)
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