The Florida Department of Education aims to hold school districts more accountable for how they deliver lessons required in state law.
If district officials have concerns about this step, they didn’t show it during a public workshop held Thursday via webinar. It drew only a handful of people, and lasted just 11 minutes.
Only one participant other than the presenters offered any comment.
Ann Whitney, the department’s director of standards, stressed during her introduction that the section of law up for discussion was first established in 1965, and that all but two of the specifically required lessons in it are accounted for in the state’s current academic standards. The mandates for teaching African-American and Holocaust history, for example, were set in 1994.
More recently, lawmakers amended the statute in 2016 relating to character education, in 2018 to include Medal of Honor Day, and in 2019 to cover lessons on mental health, substance abuse prevention and child trafficking prevention.
“The manner in which they do this is a local decision,” Whitney said. “The reporting of how you are teaching it, to the state, is new.”
The department took an interest in the delivery this spring after questions about how the Holocaust is being taught in schools rose to the surface. The impetus was a Palm Beach County principal who told a parent he could not prove the Holocaust occurred and said his school’s lessons were “not forced upon individuals as we all have the same rights but not all the same beliefs.”
After covering the particulars of the proposal, she asked for comment. She noted that the draft rule language had not been completed, and would be posted after taking public input into account.
The only person to ask questions was Florida Education Association researcher Cathy Boehm. She noted that other similar proposed rules where the wording is available, such as one governing implementation of the child trafficking prevention instruction, called for lengthy amounts of information.
That includes methods of instruction for each grade level, the teachers’ professional qualifications and a description of the materials to be used.
“It seems like a very expansive report, and very time consuming,” she said. “And we are concerned about staffing personnel, and just the resources involved.”
Boehm also asked if the report would be required annually, and if if had to be done by district, school or individual teacher.
Whitney did not respond, and said she was taking notes to discuss as the staff completes its recommended rule. She did not say when the rule would be available, and the department has not set a date to take it to the Board of Education for consideration.