The Phoenix Flyer

State cracking down on whether schools are really teaching courses required by law

By: - August 30, 2019 12:13 pm
high school classroom, school, education

Classroom. Credit: Pixabay.

Following a scandal related to teaching the Holocaust and questions about whether African American history has been ignored, the Florida Department of Education is moving to require detailed annual reports from districts on what’s being taught across dozens of courses and topics.

And the agency is essentially threatening sanctions if public schools don’t comply. That could mean withholding state dollars, grant funds and lottery proceeds used to fund public schools, among other measures.

The agency is pushing those requirements by setting up new state rules, though they are not finalized yet. First, people will be able to weigh in on the proposals in a comment period that goes from Aug. 26 to Sept. 16.

Under the proposed rules, each school district, by July 1, would have to provide an annual report to the Education Commissioner outlining information from the prior school year on courses required by state law.

Districts would need to show “the specific courses in which instruction will be delivered for each grade level,” and “a description of the materials and resources utilized to deliver instruction.”

That might take some time, given the number of courses and topics that are required by state law. They range from the history of the state to kindness to animals.

The history of the Holocaust and the history of African Americans have become known because of recent news coverage. This summer, a scandal erupted after news got out that a Boca Raton high school principal in Palm Beach County refused to say that the Holocaust is a factual, historical event.

And there’s been concern that schools aren’t teaching African American history, though it’s required by law.

Democratic state Rep. Geraldine Thompson, representing parts of Orange County, has said she will file legislation that would withhold the salaries of school superintendents whose schools are not complying with the law on teaching about the Holocaust and African American history.

Here’s the full list in state law, of courses and topics labeled as “required instruction.”

(a) The history and content of the Declaration of Independence, including national sovereignty, natural law, self-evident truth, equality of all persons, limited government, popular sovereignty, and inalienable rights of life, liberty, and property, and how they form the philosophical foundation of our government.

(b) The history, meaning, significance, and effect of the provisions of the Constitution of the United States and amendments thereto, with emphasis on each of the 10 amendments that make up the Bill of Rights and how the constitution provides the structure of our government.

(c) The arguments in support of adopting our republican form of government, as they are embodied in the most important of the Federalist Papers.

(d) Flag education, including proper flag display and flag salute.

(e) The elements of civil government, including the primary functions of and interrelationships between the Federal Government, the state, and its counties, municipalities, school districts, and special districts.

(f) The history of the United States, including the period of discovery, early colonies, the War for Independence, the Civil War, the expansion of the United States to its present boundaries, the world wars, and the civil rights movement to the present. American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed, shall be viewed as knowable, teachable, and testable, and shall be defined as the creation of a new nation based largely on the universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.

(g) The history of the Holocaust (1933-1945), the systematic, planned annihilation of European Jews and other groups by Nazi Germany, a watershed event in the history of humanity, to be taught in a manner that leads to an investigation of human behavior, an understanding of the ramifications of prejudice, racism, and stereotyping, and an examination of what it means to be a responsible and respectful person, for the purposes of encouraging tolerance of diversity in a pluralistic society and for nurturing and protecting democratic values and institutions.

(h) The history of African Americans, including the history of African peoples before the political conflicts that led to the development of slavery, the passage to America, the enslavement experience, abolition, and the contributions of African Americans to society. Instructional materials shall include the contributions of African Americans to American society.

(i) The elementary principles of agriculture.

(j) The true effects of all alcoholic and intoxicating liquors and beverages and narcotics upon the human body and mind.

(k) Kindness to animals.

(l) The history of the state.

(m) The conservation of natural resources.

(n) Comprehensive health education that addresses concepts of community health; consumer health; environmental health; family life, including an awareness of the benefits of sexual abstinence as the expected standard and the consequences of teenage pregnancy; mental and emotional health; injury prevention and safety; Internet safety; nutrition; personal health; prevention and control of disease; and substance use and abuse. The health education curriculum for students in grades 7 through 12 shall include a teen dating violence and abuse component that includes, but is not limited to, the definition of dating violence and abuse, the warning signs of dating violence and abusive behavior, the characteristics of healthy relationships, measures to prevent and stop dating violence and abuse, and community resources available to victims of dating violence and abuse.

 (p) The study of Hispanic contributions to the United States.

(q) The study of women’s contributions to the United States.

(r) The nature and importance of free enterprise to the United States economy.

(s) A character development program in the elementary schools, similar to Character First or Character Counts, which is secular in nature. Beginning in school year 2004-2005, the character development program shall be required in kindergarten through grade 12. Each district school board shall develop or adopt a curriculum for the character development program that shall be submitted to the department for approval. The character development curriculum shall stress the qualities of patriotism; responsibility; citizenship; kindness; respect for authority, life, liberty, and personal property; honesty; charity; self-control; racial, ethnic, and religious tolerance; and cooperation. The character development curriculum for grades 9 through 12 shall, at a minimum, include instruction on developing leadership skills, interpersonal skills, organization skills, and research skills; creating a resume; developing and practicing the skills necessary for employment interviews; conflict resolution, workplace ethics, and workplace law; managing stress and expectations; and developing skills that enable students to become more resilient and self-motivated.

(t) In order to encourage patriotism, the sacrifices that veterans and Medal of Honor recipients have made in serving our country and protecting democratic values worldwide. Such instruction must occur on or before Medal of Honor Day, Veterans’ Day, and Memorial Day. Members of the instructional staff are encouraged to use the assistance of local veterans and Medal of Honor recipients when practicable.


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Diane Rado
Diane Rado

Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.