ORLANDO, Fla. – A new ban by the Florida Board of Education on critical race theory education statewide won’t impact the curriculum in Central Florida classrooms because school district officials say they didn’t teach it to begin with.
Amid the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, discussions about race in America have been taking place in many sectors of public life. Classrooms have long been one battleground, and lawmakers in Republican-led states have moved to narrow what can be taught about the country’s sometimes tumultuous history.
At least 16 states are considering or have signed into law bills that would limit how schools frame American history.
Critical race theory is a theoretical perspective and practice for examining the role of race and racism in society, according to race scholar and University of Central Florida assistant sociology professor Dr. Jonathan Cox.
Spokespersons with Lake, Marion Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties’ school systems said critical race theory is not part of the curriculum in social studies or civics classes.
Media relations assistant director Lorena Arias, with Orange County Public Schools, said teachers instruct with standards provided by the Florida Department of Education.
Marion County Public Schools also teaches by the Florida Standards and has not changed its social studies curriculum in recent years, according to a spokesperson for the district.
“Currently, Seminole County Public Schools does not have a formal, district-based curriculum related to Black Lives Matter, critical race theory, or social justice. Our courses and curriculum are aligned to the Florida Standards and the required instruction topics listed in Florida Statute 1003.42,” according to an email from Seminole County Public Schools.
The Department of Education is still finalizing the new educational materials under the BEST Standards for the 2021-22 school year, which have not been released yet pending approval. Those standards will include “foundational concepts” in social studies, social sciences and civics classes.
On Thursday, the Board of Education approved Gov. Ron DeSantis’ request to restrict how American history should be taught in Florida’s public schools but it’s unclear how many schools actually taught so-called critical race theory to begin with because the DOE sets education standards for public schools.
News 6 partner WJXT reports the original rule change proposal did not mention “critical race theory” specifically but the language was added in an amendment offered by Board member Tom Grady.
The rule change bars teachers from attempting: “....to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view.”
“Some of this stuff is, I think, is really toxic,” DeSantis told the school board prior to the approval. “I think it’s going to cause a lot of divisions. I think it’ll cause people to think of themselves more as a member of a particular race based on skin color, rather than based on the content of their character and based on their hard work and what they’re trying to accomplish in life.”
Critics say a national effort by conservatives to limit what is taught in schools risks politicizing classroom instruction by limiting the points of view allowed in classroom discussions.
Brevard Federation of Teachers Vice President Vanessa L. Skipper said in a statement to News 6 the Board of Education is focusing “on solving a problem that doesn’t exist” instead providing needed funding for public schools.
“Whether we’re Black or white, Latino or Asian, Native or newcomer, we want our students to have an education that encourages them to dig deeper into who we are, where we came from and what we’re capable of being. But the same lawmakers who have blocked funding for our classrooms are now trying to turn our communities against our schools,” Skipper wrote in an email. “They’re spreading lies about the lessons on our history, culture, and political system that our teachers deliver based on the standards given us by the State of Florida hoping to divide us so we don’t join together to demand all that our schools need. Our teachers come from very diverse political backgrounds, and whether they’re Republican, Democrat or somewhere in between, our teachers work hard every day to encourage students to become critical thinkers. Our students do not have an R or D after their names on our rosters, and to politicize education by accusing Florida’s teachers of indoctrination is extremely disappointing.”
The Florida Education Association previously called on the board to reject the proposal.
“Students deserve the best education we can provide, and that means giving them a true picture of their world and our shared history as Americans. Hiding facts doesn’t change them. Give kids the whole truth and equip them to make up their own minds and think for themselves,” Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar said in a statement earlier this week.
Wendy Doromal, the president of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association, released a statement saying “Governor DeSantis had his political agenda and ambitions in mind when pushing for a new rule to be adopted that prevents teachers from indoctrinating children and limits what they can teach. The rule attempts to whitewash and erase uncomfortable parts of American history. Students deserve to be provided with a truthful and in-depth education. Pretending certain events never took place just distorts the truth and prevents individuals from learning from past mistakes.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.