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Florida restricts how history can be taught at school amid 'critical race theory' debate

A new state rule doesn't explicitly mention critical race theory, but it defines how history can be taught in public classrooms.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Department of Education on Thursday passed an amended rule that gives strict definitions on how history can be taught; and while critical race theory is not explicitly mentioned, the new rule would effectively ban its concepts from public classrooms.

"What we need to be doing: educating people--not trying to indoctrinate them with ideology," Gov. Ron DeSantis said during a virtual appearance at the board meeting in Jacksonville. 

The vote drew spirited debate from supporters of the amended rule who said history should be limited to the facts.

"Some of this stuff is I think really toxic," said DeSantis. "I think it's gonna cause a lot of divisions. I think it will cause people to think of themselves more as a member of a particular race or 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..."

Those who supported critical race theory said students should be taught the full scope of how race shaped the founding of our country and the impacts that has on society today.

“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,” said FEA President Andrew Spar in a statement.

Critical race theory is a concept that goes back about 40 years. It examines how racism has shaped laws and policies throughout the country's history, and the lasting impact that has on modern society. One local example would be how policies that restricted African Americans from buying homes in certain Tampa Bay neighborhoods created the racially segregated patterns seen in neighborhoods today.

"The history of how America was formed...is not pretty," said Hillsborough NAACP president Yvette Lewis.

Critical race theory is not currently taught in Florida classrooms. However, the controversy surrounding the New York Times’ 1619 Project and supplemental educational materials stirred raised concerns among some that students would be indoctrinated with harmful beliefs about race.

The project aims to reframe the understanding of America's founding through the lens of slavery and its legacy.

"That's really how we got in this world of not understanding each other because for so long history was taught in schools that omitted a lot of important information that can help benefit, mold, shape, educate, and bring understanding to many people in society today," said Lewis.

DeSantis and board members said the rule does not eliminate the teaching of African American history and that the state will continue to teach about slavery, Reconstruction, segregation, Jim Crow and other moments that have shaped the country's racial legacy.

"That not only should be taught in Florida, it is required to be taught in Florida, and it absolutely should be," said DeSantis.

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