Floridians Vent About Black History Policy

Education commissioner behind new standards skips public forum
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 11, 2023 5:05 PM CDT
Florida Education Chief Skips Forum on Black History Policy
An attendee holds books that could be banned by the state's newly adopted curriculum standards on African American history during an education town hall Thursday night in Miami Gardens, Fla.   (D.A. Varela/Miami Herald via AP)

Leaders of a forum on Florida's new standards for teaching Black history encouraged parents to let their discontent be heard by showing up at local school board meetings, sending feedback to the state's Department of Education, and voting. Hundreds of lawmakers, teachers, and parents crowded into Antioch Baptist Church in Miami Gardens on Thursday night to discuss the policy, the AP reports. The standards have drawn harsh criticism for requiring teachers to instruct middle school students that enslaved people "developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit."

But Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, the person responsible for overseeing the new standards, wasn't there. Diaz, a former high school teacher in Miami-Dade County, had agreed to attend, organizers said. His participation was advertised on fliers publicizing the event, which was sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Shevrin Jones. A chair even was set up for him with a placard bearing his name. Diaz, who was appointed commissioner last year by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, said on social media that he told Jones last week he would instead be visiting schools to welcome back teachers and students. Thursday was the first day of school across much of Florida.

"Manny Diaz is a coward," Ingram told the cheering crowd. DeSantis and Diaz knew about the event, he said, and "should've been here tonight to face you." Anthony Durden, an activist and minister from Miami Gardens, called the new standards disrespectful and insensitive. "To say that Blacks benefited from slavery is insane," Durden said. He said the only way to move forward was with "honest dialogue" but that students were being deprived of that. Miami-Dade school board member Steve Gallon III urged parents to teach their children at home about the horrors of slavery, per the AP. "My prayer is this becomes a catalyst for a movement," he said.

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The meeting took place in a historic Black church in Miami Gardens. The crowd's attitude toward the new standard was mostly negative. Jones, the state senator, said he would set up a group to study the standards, and asked audience members to sign up. DeSantis has repeatedly defended the new language while insisting that its opponents are intentionally misinterpreting one line of the sweeping curriculum. Karen Thompson, a school counselor who attended the town hall meeting, called the new standards "really absurd and heart-wrenching." Thompson said she hoped they will be rescinded this year. "Slavery was in no way a good thing," she said. "Education should be about the truth." (Vice President Kamala Harris and DeSantis will not be debating the policy in person.)

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