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Florida rejects social studies textbooks that mention social justice, taking a knee and other content of ‘concern’

<i>Alex Brandon/AP/FILE</i><br/>The move comes as Republican lawmakers
AP
Alex Brandon/AP/FILE
The move comes as Republican lawmakers

By Chandelis Duster, Carlos Suarez and Sara Weisfeldt, CNN

Florida rejected nearly 35% of social studies textbooks submitted by publishers for approval, including those that referenced social justice and “other information that was not aligned with Florida Law,” the state’s Department of Education announced Tuesday.

Regarding K-12 social studies instructional materials, 66 of 101 submitted materials were approved and met state standards for every grade level, the department said.

When the submitted materials were initially reviewed, only 19 out of 101 were approved due to “inaccurate material, errors and other information that was not aligned with Florida Law,” and the department said it worked with publishers who “have updated their materials to comply with Florida’s rigorous standards.”

The move by the Florida Department of Education comes as Republican lawmakers, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, have made widespread efforts to restrict how racism and history are taught in schools. It also comes amid a contentious national debate on the issue.

The examples of rejected material provided by the department include:

  • Removing a paragraph that references how parents should talk with their children about the National Anthem and explaining “Taking a Knee” to protest police brutality for grades K-5.
  • Removing a section about social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement for grades 6-8.
  • Changing “social justice issues” to “key principles” when discussing what is in the Hebrew Bible for grades 6-8.
  • Changing a reference to “socialist economy” that said, “They may promote greater equality while still providing a fully functioning government supervised economy,” to “planned economies” that have “slow development and fewer technological advances because they move slowly around planning and approval, while limiting human incentive” for grades 6-8.

Reasons for the rejection of some of the materials included concerns that the references had “politically charged language when referencing the Hebrew Bible,” “unsolicited topics,” or were “not age appropriate.”

“To uphold our exceptional standards, we must ensure our students and teachers have the highest quality materials available — materials that focus on historical facts and are free from inaccuracies or ideological rhetoric,” Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. said in a statement Tuesday.

Social studies materials that the department said did not meet their criteria included, “The African American Experience, 2022”, “History of the Holocaust, 2022, 2nd Edition” and “Modern Genocide, 2022”, another teaching on the Holocaust.

The department said publishers can appeal their material that was not adopted and submit revisions that subject matter experts will review to “ensure that the final materials ultimately meet Florida’s bid specifications and align to Florida’s state academic standards.”

CNN reached out to the Florida Department of Education for additional comment on Wednesday.

Miami-Dade County Public School board member Dr. Steve Gallon expressed skepticism about some of the textbook changes during an interview with CNN.

He said these events are “historical facts” and there should be no attempt at “eliminating or modifying” what happened.

“Social studies have always been at the fulcrum of ideas for students. These things happened,” he said.

Officials with the Miami-Dade County school district — the third largest in the country, with over 330,000 students — said the district was waiting for the approved list to move forward with adopting next year’s textbooks.

Honoring ‘lived experiences of students’

The state education department’s decision has sparked criticism, including from NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson, who said the organization refuses to “stand by and allow fascism to rule over fact.”

“One thing is abundantly clear – Governor Ron DeSantis is committed to erasing our history and unraveling our democracy by indoctrinating our children and stripping away our fundamental freedoms,” Johnson said in a statement to CNN. “In the past month alone, he has led the Florida government in their assaults on parental and reproductive rights, the erasure of Black history, and now, the rejection of a curriculum that does not align with his extremist agenda.”

Stephana Ferrell, an Orange County parent and the co-founder of the Florida Freedom to Read Project, told CNN it was “disappointing that we are rejecting our current world and what’s happening in it.”

The project was started in January 2022 to connect parent organizations across the state of Florida and “focuses our energy on defending every student’s right to access information and ideas while at school.”

Ferrell has two sons in first and fourth grade at public schools, and said she takes her sons to Orlando Magic basketball games where they have seen players take a knee during the national anthem. She said she is concerned about what happens when children have questions about similar lived experiences and whether or not teachers can answer those questions in class and still comply with the law.

“It’s so very important that our lived experiences of the students in the classroom are honored and that every student feels as if they’re included in the conversation and that they can ask the questions that they have about their own lives, about their culture, about their society. And this is really restrictive of that,” she said.

In April 2022, DeSantis signed into law the Individual Freedom Act, also known as the “Stop WOKE Act,” that restricts teachings on race in schools or the workplace but has faced legal challenges since going into effect on July 1. A federal appeals court in March ruled that a temporary block on a portion of a law would remain in place.

Also last April, the Florida Department of Education rejected 54 of 132 math textbooks publishers submitted that it said did not comply with its Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking Standards or were rejected for including critical race theory, social-emotional learning and more.

Florida’s state education board this April banned teaching students about sexual orientation and gender identity through high school and said teachers who violate the policy could be suspended or have their teaching licenses revoked.

Bills similar to that controversial legislation are being considered in at least 15 states, according to data compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The-CNN-Wire
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CNN’s Justin Gamble, Amy Simonson and Steve Contorno contributed to this report.

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