Florida Board of Education approves controversial standards for teaching Black history

Florida’s Board of Education approved new rules for teaching Black history in the state Wednesday, prompting immediate backlash from critics who describe the updated standards as “a big step backward.” 

The new guidelines come after the state passed a controversial education law, which required lessons on race be taught in an “objective” manner that does not seek to “indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view.” The state also prohibited a pilot Advanced Placement high school course on African American studies in early 2023, saying it violated state law and “lacks educational value.” 

The updated standards on African American history instruction include “benchmark clarifications” to provide additional guidance to teachers on specific topics for instruction. One updated standard that has, in particular, come under fire directs teachers to include instruction on “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

Another “benchmark clarification” under increased scrutiny directs teachers to include instruction on “acts of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans” when teaching about the growth and destruction of Black communities during Reconstruction and beyond. Among the examples listed as an act of violence was the 1920 Ocoee Massacre, when dozens of African Americans were killed when they went to vote. 

The Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers union, slammed these standards and others in a statement issued Wednesday as “a big step backward.”  

“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 press release said, referring to the controversial education law. “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 president of the association, Andrew Spar, said in the press release, “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.”

“Gov. [Ron] 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,” he added.

The meeting Wednesday grew contentious, as many community leaders spoke and requested the board to table the proposed standards until they could be revised. Some of the new rules proposed were also aimed at LGBTQ students and educators. The standards were reportedly adopted, with no discussion.

State Sen. Geraldine Thompson (D) reportedly spoke at the meeting Wednesday. She helped pass a law requiring teachers to instruct about the Ocoee Massacre, which was listed among the “acts of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans,” in the updated standards.

Thompson reportedly said the new standards “suggests that the massacre was sparked by violence from African Americans. That’s blaming the victims.”

Tags Florida Florida education laws Ron DeSantis

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