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Florida education board approves new school standards

Gov. Ron DeSantis focuses on changes to civics education, saying students will be taught “the evil of things like communism and socialism.”
Tom Grady, a member of Florida's State Board of Education, speaks during the board's meeting Wednesday in Seminole. The board approved new curriculum standards, among other actions.
Tom Grady, a member of Florida's State Board of Education, speaks during the board's meeting Wednesday in Seminole. The board approved new curriculum standards, among other actions. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]
Published Jul. 14
Updated Jul. 14

The teaching of social studies in Florida entered a new era on Wednesday with the State Board of Education adopting a broad array of standards that had stirred discussion and debate around the state.

Meeting in Seminole, the State Board approved revised standards for topics including civics and government, character education, substance abuse prevention and the Holocaust.

Related: How should Florida teach civics? You’re invited to chime in.

“As parents of three children, First Lady DeSantis and I are grateful to the State Board of Education for their actions today that will enable Florida’s students to become tomorrow’s leaders,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis, who appeared along with Casey DeSantis at the beginning of the meeting.

Referencing the ongoing turmoil in Cuba, DeSantis said, “we’re going to teach our kids about the evil of things like communism and socialism.”

Character education and substance abuse prevention are some of the less controversial topics included in the newly adopted standards.

Civics and government standards will make sure students learn about the principles of the United States Constitution and other founding documents, “and attain a well-rounded knowledge base to understand how to become great citizens,” according to a notice put out by the Department of Education.

The 2020 Legislature directed the Department of Education to prepare and offer Holocaust education standards as well.

The revised civic education standards will, in part, require public school students to “study primary source documents to understand the philosophical underpinnings of the American Republic and the root cause of American exceptionalism.”

The objective, according to an outline on the department website, is to teach students “a sense of civic pride” and how to “participate regularly in all levels of government.”

The board also approved alternate standards in math and English-language arts for students with “the most significant cognitive disabilities,” as well as minor technical revisions to English-language arts instruction.

More than 20 people spoke during a public comment period, voicing a mix of support and criticism.

Stephanie Meyer, a social studies teacher at St. Petersburg’s Keswick Christian School and a former candidate for Pinellas County School Board, said the new civics standards “are evidence-based, historically factual and will teach our children our shared American values.”

She added: “Our children are victors, not victims. Their best interests should always come before the political agendas of those who seek to undermine this great nation.”

Marina Welch, who said she represented the organization Women’s March Florida, said the standards are part of a broad attempt to ban the teaching of critical race theory, which is based on the premise that racism is embedded within American society and institutions.

”The exclusion of civics courses including CRT (critical race theory) will, by definition, limit information,” Welch said. “Our state’s most precious asset, our children, should be educated to arrive at and make informed decisions.”

DeSantis last month backed a vote by the State Board to place strict guidelines on the way history is taught in public schools, and has been a vocal proponent of blocking critical race theory from all levels of education.

Some who attended the meeting wanted to speak more directly about critical race theory, and about another hot-button issue: Face coverings in the schools. They were disappointed and some booed when board chair Andy Tuck said such discussions did not relate to the agenda and would not be allowed.

Information from the News Service of Florida was used in this report.