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Exploring Florida's fight over Black history in the classroom

Although Black history is required learning in Florida schools, some say it is not being taught the way it should.

TAMPA, Fla. — Learning the past helps explain the present, but across Florida, there has been pushback against incorporating more comprehensive African American history into classrooms across the state.

"There are 67 school districts, 67 counties. Only 12 of them have been deemed to be doing an exemplary job in teaching African American history,” said state Sen. Geraldine Thompson, a Democrat who represents the Orlando area.

Thompson made the remarks at a press conference alongside civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who threatened a lawsuit over the state’s recent rejection of an Advanced Placement African American studies course.

On Jan. 12, the Florida Department of Education sent a letter to the College Board rejecting the course for high school students, saying it “lacks educational value.”

“We want education, not indoctrination,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis at a press conference. “If you read what they have in there, they’re advocating things like abolishing prisons.”

The Florida Department of Education released a document highlighting its concerns with the course, including a unit on intersectionality, which the state says is foundational to critical race theory.

Critical race theory is banned in Florida schools.

"One of the reasons it's become so controversial is people just really don't know what it is,” said historian Fred Hearns of the Tampa Bay History Center.

Professor Rik Stevenson of the University of Florida said the idea is not to divide but to help people understand how race has impacted laws and policies that still affect society today.

"It is a theoretical framework that allows us to look at the laws and the systems in this country and to see how they are oftentimes unbalanced when it comes to certain people groups,” he said. “In a country where race has so influenced the way we developed, it is important to understand how it developed.”

Even prior to the ban on critical race theory, it was never taught in Florida schools. However, Black history is mandated by state law.

"The state of Florida, our education standards not only don't prevent, but they require teaching Black history, all the important things,” DeSantis said.

Thompson said that even though Black history is mandated, schools are still not teaching it effectively. She says she wants school districts to be more accountable when they fall short.

Hearns, who works with Hillsborough County Schools on incorporating African American history in the classrooms, says he hopes this is a discussion more districts and the state will take seriously.

"If we are really to teach American history or Florida history or even local history, there's no way to do it and not include the history made by Black people,” he said.

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