JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Top Florida education officials on Thursday voted unanimously to ban the controversial concept of "Critical Race Theory" from being taught as part of history curriculums in K-12 schools throughout the state.
Critical Race Theory supports the belief that racism is infused in American society, as well as in its institutions and legal systems.
Education Week defines Critical Race Theory as having at its core "that racism is a social construct, and that it is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies."
In an 8-0 vote, the Florida Board of Education approved a rule change which says "instruction on the required topics must be factual and objective, and may not suppress or distort significant historical events."
The rule change adds that teachers must "serve as facilitators for student discussion and do not share their personal views or attempt to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of views."
Speaking to the Florida Board of Education on Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said he feared Critical Race Theory would bring false narratives into schools.
"We have to do history that is factual," DeSantis said. "And if you look at things that have grown out of Critical Race Theory, it's much more about trying to craft narratives about history that are not grounded in fact."
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DeSantis added that Critical Race Theory has brought "ideology and political activism into the forefront of education."
"That is not what we need to be doing in Florida. We need to be educating people, not trying to indoctrinate them with ideology," DeSantis said. "Some of this stuff is, I think, really toxic. I think it's gonna cause a lot of divisions."
"It's important for us, or even imperative, to teach students how to think, not specifically what to think," said Jacob Oliva, the chancellor of the division of public schools for the Florida Department of Education.
Oliva said the goal of the changes is to make sure teachers don't "go rogue" and spread "unfactual truths about certain historical events."
"Tell students that they have to believe exactly what I'm saying," Oliva said. "You're not allowed to have independent thought on your own. That's something that doesn't happen a lot in our classrooms, but unfortunately, there are incidences where we may have somebody present some false truths as a narrative in a classroom."
Oliva added that if educators decide to bring in additional or ancillary materials to teach a particular lesson to students, those materials must be aligned with state standards.
"Those standards set the benchmark for what we want students to know and learn," Oliva said.
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After more than an hour of public comment on Thursday, the Florida Board of Education approved the following rule change:
"Instruction on the required topics must be factual and objective, and may not suppress or distort significant historical events, such as the Holocaust, slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the civil rights movement, and the contributions of women, African American, and Hispanic people to our country, as already provided in section 1003.42 of Florida statutes. Examples of theories that distort historical events and are inconsistent with state board-approved standards include the denial or minimization of the Holocaust, and the teaching of Critical Race Theory, meaning the theory that racism is not merely a product of prejudice, but that racism is embedded in American society and its legal systems in order to uphold the supremacy of white persons. Instruction may not utilize material from the 1619 Project and may not define American history as something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principals stated in the Declaration of Independence. Instruction must include the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments.
Efficient and faithful teaching further means that any discussion is appropriate for the age and maturity level of the students, and teachers serve as facilitators for student discussion and do not share their personal views or attempt to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of views that is inconsistent with the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards and the Benchmarks for Excellent Study Thinking Standards."
However, the Florida Education Association, which is the state's teachers' union, took issue with the Department of Education’s plan to consider changes to history curriculum requirements, saying the changes appear to have a "political, rather than educational, motive."
"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," said FEA President Andrew Spar. "Hiding facts doesn’t change them. Give kids the whole truth and equip them to make up their own minds and think for themselves."
The changes approved by the Florida Board of Education come at a time of heightened politicization surrounding education.
Multiple states have made changes to state curriculum to specifically outlaw the possibility of teaching Critical Race Theory. More than a dozen states have introduced or passed laws banning the teaching of the subject, despite opposition from many educators.
DeSantis said the rule change will ban the theory completely in K-12 Florida schools.
"I think it's really important that when we're doing history, when we're doing things like civics, that it's grounded in actual fact," DeSantis said. "I think we've got to have an education system that is preferring fact over narratives."
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The School District of Palm Beach County said Critical Race Theory is not taught in district schools. During a school board meeting last month on a controversial district equity statement, board member Dr. Debra Robinson addressed the issue.
"There was this accusation that we want to teach kids Critical Race Theory. No," Robinson said. "But as one of the speakers said, I want to teach them critical thinking and how to find the facts for yourself, because there's so much misinformation out there for children and adults. You could run down any rabbit hole and be absolutely certain you are correct."
The topic also came up during an Indian River County School Board meeting this week while discussing the curriculum.
"I wish more teachers were here to speak because they are not out there saying, well, we are going to teach Critical Race Theory, or we're going to teach that one race is better than the other, or we're going to teach division. That's not happening," said board member Dr. Peggy Jones. "So let's just keep focused on what we need to do for our kids. If you look at the standards and what we have to do on a regular basis, and any current teachers and principals out there know this, they don't have a minute to breathe. I mean, there is no fluff in this curriculum."
Our news partners at WFTSin Tampa contributed to this article.