The new bill will require the Florida Department of Education to collect reports from Florida’s school districts to prove the course is being taught and ideas to improve the curriculum. STOCK PHOTO
By DAVID L. SNELLING Special to South Florida Times
MIAMI, Fla – After Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis rejected the College Board’s request to administer an Advanced Placement African American Studies course in high schools, Miami Gardens Democratic state Rep.
Christopher Benjamin wants to make sure African American history is taught in the classrooms.
The College Board’s curriculum initially included studies on Queer theory, critical race theory, afﬁrmative action and the Black Lives Matter movement but was altered to win the governor’s approval but to no avail.
African American classes are required by an existing state law created in 1994 and both chambers unanimously passed during the session recently completed, House Bill 551 with Palm Bay Republican Rep. Randy Fine
a co-sponsor of the legislation, which would hold school districts accountable if it’s not part of their curriculums.
Benjamin said with confusion over the rejection of the AP African-American Studies course and DeSantis’ Stop W.O.K.E. Act, school districts might have placed the curriculum on the back burner.
The new bill will require the Department of Education to collect reports from Florida’s school districts to prove the course is being taught and ideas to improve the curriculum.
Each promoted school district would also have to submit an implementation plan to Education Commissioner Manny Díaz Jr., complete with details about methods of instruction and the qualiﬁcations of teaching personnel and post those details to its website.
School districts would face penalties if they violate the new law including losing state funding but would have a chance to come into compliance before punishment is handed down.
Benjamin, a lawyer by trade, said over the past two Legislative Sessions, he pushed to ensure that the future of Black History Studies is secured for grades Pre-K through the 12th grade.
"This new law builds on my work in expanding the subject areas of required instruction in African American Studies, and provides an assurance that there will be accountability in all 67 school districts for providing the proper curriculum and instruction," said Benjamin. "We’ve also pointed to the statute that provides the penalties if there is no adherence to the statutory mandate. I’m especially proud to have been able to put together a bipartisan coalition to get this great piece of legislation to the governor, and I look forward to his signing."
DeSantis’ Stop W.O.K.E. Act, which prohibits instruction that could make students feel responsibility, guilt or anguished for what other members of their race did in the past including past White Supremacy and slavery, has caused a lot of confusion for school administrators on what to teach students about African American and American History.
DeSantis and the GOP-controlled Legislation have banned 175 school textbooks that touch on race, sexuality and sexual orientation and gender identity that are not consistent with Stop W.O.K.E. ACT.
To comply with the law, a Florida textbook publisher altered the content for the race-related issue involving civil rights icon Rosa Parks who was arrested in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955 for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man.
The original version of the book said Parks was told to move to a different seat because of the color of her skin.
In the amended version, the book says "she was told to move to a different seat."
However, Benjamin’s amendment to his bill, which lawmakers accepted on the House floor, added a list of specific topics educators could still teach under the new rules, including lessons on slavery and racial oppression.
It also added language enabling teachers to still instruct students on topics related to laws and policies that stemmed from racial oppression and discrimination.
In the Senate, Democrats Rosalind Osgood of Broward County, also a former Broward County School Board member, Bobby Powell of Palm Beach County and Geri Thompson of Orange County, supported the bill.
They also expressed disappointment after they learned several school districts were not teaching the course as required by state law.
“It has been very concerning to me that the statute has not been followed uniformly throughout the state,” said Thompson, a former teacher. "This bill is a step in the right direction."