Florida Board of Education approves new Black history standards that critics call ‘a big step backward’

(CNN) — The Florida Board of Education approved a new set of standards for how Black history should be taught in the state’s public schools, sparking criticism from education and civil rights advocates who said students should be allowed to learn the “full truth” of American history.

The curriculum was approved at the board’s meeting Wednesday in Orlando.

It is the latest development in the state’s ongoing debate over African American history, including the education department’s rejection of a preliminary pilot version of an Advanced Placement African American Studies course for high school students, which it claimed lacked educational value.

The new standards come after the state passed new legislation under Gov. Ron DeSantis that bars instruction in schools that suggests anyone is privileged or oppressed based on their race or skin color. DeSantis has used his fight against “wokeness” to boost his national profile amid a national discussion of how racism and history should be taught in schools.

The new standards require instruction for middle school students to include “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit,” a document listing the standards and posted in the Florida Department of Education website said.

When high school students learn about events such as the 1920 Ocoee massacre, the new rules require that instruction include “acts of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans.” The massacre is considered the deadliest Election Day violence in US history and, according to several histories of the incident, it started when Moses Norman, a prominent Black landowner in the Ocoee, Florida, community, attempted to cast his ballot and was turned away by White poll workers.

Similar standards are noted for lessons about other massacres, including the Atlanta race massacre, the Tulsa race massacre and the Rosewood race massacre.

“Our children deserve nothing less than truth, justice, and the equity our ancestors shed blood, sweat, and tears for,” Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, said in a statement condemning the new standards. “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.”

“We are proud of the rigorous process that the Department took to develop these standards,” Alex Lanfranconi, director of communications for the Florida Department of Education, said in a statement, noting the standards were created by a group of 13 educators and academics.

“It’s sad to see critics attempt to discredit what any unbiased observer would conclude to be in-depth and comprehensive African American History standards. They incorporate all components of African American History: the good, the bad and the ugly. These standards will further cement Florida as a national leader in education, as we continue to provide true and accurate instruction in African American History,” Lanfranconi said.

The Florida Education Association, a statewide teachers union, called the new standards a disservice to students and “a big step backward for a state that has required teaching African American history since 1994.”

“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? 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,” Andrew Spar, the association’s president, said in a statement. “Gov. DeSantis is pursuing a political agenda guaranteed to set good people against one another, and in the process he’s cheating our kids. They deserve the full truth of American history, the good and the bad,” Spar added.


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