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Florida GOP Rep. Byron Donalds and DeSantis allies clash over state's new Black history curriculum

DeSantis under fire for school curriculum
DeSantis tries to distance himself from Florida's Black history curriculum 05:13

GOP Rep. Byron Donalds, the sole Black member of Florida's congressional delegation, is at odds with the state Education Department and Gov. Ron DeSantis, after criticizing a clarification in middle school instruction standard on Black history. According to the standard, instruction includes "how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit." 

"The new African-American standards in FL are good, robust, & accurate. That being said, the attempt to feature the personal benefits of slavery is wrong & needs to be adjusted. That obviously wasn't the goal & I have faith that FLDOE will correct this," he posted Wednesday morning

Allies of DeSantis' presidential campaign and within Florida immediately hit back at Donalds, tying him to Vice President Kamala Harris, who recently criticized the standards during a speech in Jacksonville, Fla.

"How is it that anyone could suggest that amidst these atrocities [of slavery], there was any 'benefit' to being subjected to this level of dehumanization?" Harris said in her Jacksonville speech last Sunday.

Manny Diaz Jr., Florida's education commissioner, posted a memo sent to Florida school district superintendents that said that despite the "partisan and inaccurate criticism" of the standards, the state would pass the new history standards. He pointed to the Florida Education Department's reliance on Black scholars to put the overall framework together.

"Let me be clear: we are not turning our backs on the great work of the African American History workgroup," Diaz Jr. wrote, without specifically addressing the main clause that elicited outrage. 

He also questioned Donalds' conservatism, lumping him in with Democrats who have lambasted the standards. "We will not back down from teaching our nation's true history at the behest of a woke @WhiteHouse, nor at the behest of a supposedly conservative congressman," Diaz tweeted.

DeSantis press secretary Jeremy Redfern tweeted, "Florida isn't going to hide the truth for political convenience. Maybe the congressman shouldn't swing for the liberal media fences like @VP."

In Iowa on Thursday, DeSantis spoke with reporters and defended the creation of the new standards and said Harris was trying to "demagogue" the issue. He then compared the line in the new standards to language in the framework of an AP African American Studies course, which Florida initially rejected, about how slaves "learned specialized trades and worked as painters, carpenters, tailors, musicians and healers in the North and South." 

"Once free, African Americans used these skills to provide for themselves and others," the AP African American Studies course framework says. 

In a response Wednesday night, Donalds, a former DeSantis ally who has endorsed former President Donald Trump in the 2024 presidential race, posted, "What's crazy to me is I expressed support for the vast majority of the new African American history standards and happened to oppose one sentence that seemed to dignify the skills gained by slaves as a result of their enslavement."

"Anyone who can't accurately interpret what I said is disingenuous and is desperately attempting to score political points," he added

Jason Miller, a Trump campaign adviser, defended Donalds in a statement and called him a "conservative hero" and says DeSantis team's attempt to "smear" Donalds is a "disgrace."

In an interview with CBS News on Thursday, DeSantis contended that neither he nor his allies are picking a fight with Donalds. 

"Look, at the end of the day, Floridians stand up for Florida. Don't side with Kamala Harris and liberals who are demagoguing this. These are people that worked really hard on this. Our State Board of Education approved it. You had nobody raising a ruckus about this until it became convenient to try to do it so I would just say, you know, I'd ask all my colleagues in Florida, stand up for your state, don't side with Kamala Harris," he said. 

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, a presidential candidate and the only Black Republican in the Senate, appeared to address DeSantis' comments while speaking to reporters following a town hall in Ankeny, Iowa, Thursday.

"There is no silver lining" in slavery, Scott said. 

"The truth is anything you can learn, any benefits people suggested you have during slavery, you would have had as a free person," he went on. "What slavery was really about [was] separating families, about mutilating humans and even raping their wives. It was just devastating. So, I would hope that every person in our country — and certainly running for president — would appreciate that." 

— Fin Gomez contributed reporting.

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