Race left out of Rosa Parks story in revised weekly lesson text for Florida schools highlights confusion with Florida law
By Justin Gamble, CNN
Studies Weekly, a publisher that provides educational periodicals for Florida’s K-6 grades, revised one of their lesson plans for the 2022-2023 school year to take out race as the reason Rosa Parks was told to change her bus seat and why she was subsequently arrested.
The initial text, which reportedly said Parks “was told to move to a different seat because of the color of her skin,” was edited because “individuals in our curriculum team severely overreacted in their interpretation of HB 7 and made unapproved revisions,” Studies Weekly tells CNN in a statement.
Florida’s House Bill 7 restricts what can be taught to students about certain topics, including race. It went into effect as law last July and requires schools to submit instructional material to the state’s Department of Education for textbook review.
Studies Weekly says the revisions were missed due to errors in the quality assurance process, and they have taken corrective action and implemented safeguards to ensure nothing like this happens again.
“We find the omission or altering of historical facts to be abhorrent and do not defend it,” the publisher says in its statement. “Those unapproved changes have already been removed from our curriculum.”
Studies Weekly says the “unapproved changes were never finalized nor delivered to schools for classroom use.”
However, Stephana Ferrell, a parent and activist with the Florida Freedom to Read Project, tells CNN she was able to easily access the Rosa Parks lesson plan with the omissions online along with several other Black history lessons as late as the end of January while serving as a guest reviewer for Florida’s Department of Education.
According to Ferrell, any parent could sign up to be a guest reviewer and see any lesson plan that had been submitted to the state for inclusion in the 2022-2023 curriculum.
The omission highlights some of the difficulties book publishers now face while trying to comply with HB 7.
Studies Weekly said in a statement to CNN that Florida’s Department of Education had not provided guidance on how the law applies to the publisher’s existing texts. “Studies Weekly, like every publisher, has had to decipher how to comply with their legislation,” the statement read.
“It is our duty to follow the directives provided by each state Department of Education,” and that its texts are aligned with state standards, it continued.
Florida places blame on publisher for error
The Florida Department of Education places the blame for the omission squarely on Studies Weekly.
“No one from the Florida Department of Education has requested or would request the mention of race to be removed from social studies textbooks, as that would clearly be contrary to the … requirements of Florida law.”
The Department of Education says it informed Studies Weekly that their text was not considered for use during the 2022-2023 school year but they could reapply for inclusion in future years.
The Florida Department of Education tells CNN the state has “robust requirements for the teaching of African American History.” The new law, it says, “specifically requires discussion of topics such as slavery, racial oppression, racial segregation, and racial discrimination.”
Playing politics with kids’ education
Ferrell said Florida is using taxpayer funds to make “public education so dysfunctional,” and adds that because of the penalties associated with violating state law, “publishers are now scared.”
Ferrell, who has two elementary-age children, says she became involved in opposing the state’s book bans and teaching restrictions on race after attending a school board hearing and witnessing firsthand the “censorship” of historical facts.
“We noticed that it was an attack on Black and brown, Hispanic, Indigenous and LGBTQ+ voices in particular; those were the folks that they were going after,” Ferrell said, adding that “we wanted to make sure that we were putting more and more of these voices into our schools.”
It’s time for the state to stop playing politics with kids’ education, Ferrell said. She and her husband decided to put her kids in public school to expose them to different cultures and viewpoints and to learn from the experiences of others, she said.
“We wanted our kids to have the viewpoints that they have challenged, we want them to ask questions,” Ferrell said.
Florida’s fight over teaching race
The omission of race in the story of Rosa Parks is just one of the latest controversies regarding teaching race in the state and comes after the DeSantis administration rejected certain math textbooks last year because it said it found evidence of CRT and other banned concepts in the materials, CNN previously reported.
Florida has been at the center of the debate on how to teach issues involving race in public schools. In June 2021, the state became one of several to ban the teaching of critical race theory (CRT), CNN previously reported. Scholars who have studied critical race theory say it explores the ways in which a history of inequality and racism in the United States has continued to impact American society.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has expressed his disagreement, saying CRT “teaches kids to hate our country and to hate each other.” He continued by saying that “it is state-sanctioned racism and has no place in Florida schools.”
Florida rejected a new Advanced Placement (AP) course on African American Studies earlier this year, CNN previously reported. DeSantis said the course, included the study of “queer theory” and political movements that for advocated “abolishing prisons.” DeSantis called it a “political agenda.” The state’s education department said the course framework lacked “educational value” and violated state law.
In response, the College Board, the testing organization responsible for developing the course curriculum for schools nationwide, defended its framework and accused Florida’s Department of Education of “slander” and of using the course as a tool for political gain.
The debate on how to teach race has expanded beyond K-12 education. The newly appointed Board of Trustees at New College of Florida voted to abolish diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs at the school in late February. The move follows DeSantis’ proposal to defund DEI programs at state colleges and universities.
In February, DeSantis said the state does “require teaching of Black History.” However, a state board created to help school districts to do that, say many schools only cover the topic during Black History Month in February. Critics of the state also say courses teaching African American history in the state were historically underfunded.
™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.