Rep. Thompson: DeSantis anti-critical race theory bill highlights need for “fact-based” Black history to be taught in public schools
Friday, December 17, 2021
State Rep. Geraldine Thompson with State Sen. Randolph Bracy at the Florida Legislative Black Caucus Legislation Update held in July at Ocoee's Lakeshore Center.
Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this week announced his Stop W.O.K.E Act — or Stop Wrongs against Our Kids and Employees Act — that would codify into law the Board of Education’s June rule banning critical race theory (CRT) from being taught in public K-12 schools or included in staff training. It would also allow parents to sue schools if they believe CRT is being taught.
That’s not stopping Democratic State Rep. Geraldine Thompson, who represents Windermere, Winter Garden, Oakland, from pursuing her own legislation when the Florida Legislature convenes next month to ensure that Florida students learn Black history and the history of the Holocaust. Florida statute 1003.42 outlining required instruction mandates these topics be taught. But while that’s been law for 27 years, only 11 of Florida's 67 school districts have curricula for instruction. They include: Alachua, Broward, Duval, Gadsen, Hillsborough, Leon, Palm Beach, Pinellas, and St. Lucie. But not Orange County.
“Critical race theory is not African-American history nor is it teaching the history of the Holocaust,” Thompson said in a phone interview. “What instructors do is they teach facts and allow the students to reach whatever conclusions they want rather than presenting a particular position. You present the facts and allow the student to come to a determination.”
Thompson has tried twice to get her bill passed, but it died in committee during the last two legislative sessions in 2020 and 2021. For the upcoming session that starts Jan. 11, she’s softened the bill by removing the threat of withholding school superintendents’ salaries for noncompliance. The latest version of her bill requires superintendents explain to school boards and to the Florida Department of Education why Black history and the Holocaust have not been incorporated into curricula.
Thompson acknowledges that DeSantis is attempting to whitewash American history with his Stop W.O.K.E. Act — "Of course he is!" — since CRT, which examines how the after-effects of slavery and racism have permeated America’s economic, housing, medical, judicial, cultural and educational institutions, is not taught in K-12 schools. It's a university-level field of study.
Nonetheless, the governor describes CRT as “state-sanctioned racism” that is “teaching kids to hate our country and each other.” The Board of Education rule that his bill is based on precludes discussing racism as anything beyond “prejudice" and requires American history to be defined only as “the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.”
Thompson said the Stop W.O.K.E. Act actually "strengthens the need to teach factual information to students.”
“That’s what the governor says he wants, things that are fact-based,” said Thompson, who worked in public education for 30 years, six of them as a teacher in Orange County Public Schools. “African-American history and the history of the Holocaust are fact-based."