Permission slip controversy in Florida school highlights debate on race education

(MIAMI) — An activity permission slip for a reading of a Black author’s book at a Miami-Dade public school library stoked anger and confusion among parents and school board members.

In a now-viral post on social media, a parent posted a photo of a required permission slip for an event in which “students will participate and listen to a book written by an African American” hosted during Black History Month, the slip read.

The district told ABC News that officials “realize that the description of the event may have caused confusion, and we are working with our schools to reemphasize the importance of clarity for parents in describing activities/events that would require parental permission.”

The district clarified that permission slips were sent home because of the guest speakers who would be participating in the school-authorized education-related activity.

In a Feb. 13 hearing about the incident, Dr. Jose L. Dotres, superintendent of the Miami Dade Public Schools, said he spoke to leaders of the school that issued the permission slip.

“There is absolutely no need for any parent permission slip. Absolutely none,” he said at the hearing.

He said he is working with educators and administrators in what will be “an ongoing process to make sure that we seek the clarity that’s required to make sure that we only use parent permission slips for when they’re needed.”

The permission slip request highlighted the ongoing scrutiny of the state’s restrictions concerning education on race.

The state’s 2022 Individual Freedom Act, also known as the Stop WOKE Act, restricts race-related curriculum in schools, including topics like unconscious bias and privilege. Classroom lessons can’t cause students to feel any responsibility, guilt, or anguish, in relation to past actions committed by people of their race, according to the legislation.

Critics of these policies have said they are too vague and cause teachers to avoid or self-censor subjects that relate to race for fear of violating the law.

Supporters of the bills argue it protects students from “indoctrination,” according to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration.

The Florida Board of Education has also come under scrutiny for changing the state’s standards on African American history in July 2023, requiring that students be taught that “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

The standards also conflate incidents of race-based violence against Black Americans with “acts of violence perpetrated … by African Americans,” the new standards read.

The Florida Department of Education told ABC News in 2023 that the version of the course at the time was “inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.”

Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. defended the move in a tweet at the time, writing, “Florida is focused on teaching true and accurate African American history.”

DeSantis’ administration also rejected an AP African American history course in 2023. The Florida Department of Education told ABC News the version of the course at the time was “inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.”

The decision stoked criticism from educators across the country and even the White House.

“The state chooses to block a course that is meant for high-achieving high school students to learn about their history of arts and culture,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters during a press briefing at the time. “It is incomprehensible.”

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