June 11, 2024

Sue Kingery Woltanski: Will State Board Rule Allow Display Of The Ten Commandments In Classrooms?

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Florida’s MAGA legislators continue to look for ways to inject Christianity into classrooms. Sue Kingery Woltanski reports on one of the recent ones. Reposted with permission.

After Governor DeSantis signed his “Stop Woke Act” (HB7), banning the teaching of critical race theory from Florida schools, the Florida Department of Education rejected 54 math textbooks, claiming they contained Critical Race Theory.

After releasing Florida’s updated 2020-2021 K-12 English Language Arts Instructional Materials Adoption List in September 2021, the legislature passed HB7039 in May 2023, requiring all reading instruction “be grounded in the science of reading” and prohibiting the use of three-cueing, which was utilized by several of the previously approved texts. Districts, like mine, who had adopted the previously approved texts would need to obtain supplemental materials to avoid the prohibited instruction.

Also in May 2023, Florida released 2022-2023 Social Studies Instructional Materials Adoption List which was updated 12 times between then and March 2024. My district underwent our required public Social Studies Instructional Materials adoption process in February 2024 and our board formally adopted the recommendations of the District Instructional Materials Committee for Social Studies on May 7th, just in time to order new textbooks for the fall.

Tomorrow morning, at 9am at a meeting at Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus, the Florida Board of Education is expected to change the Social Studies standards our newly purchased textbooks are based on…

The item in question is Action Item 11, Approval of Proposed Rule 6A-1.09401 (PDF), designed to update Florida’s State Academic Standards for Social Studies.

Florida Freedom to Read Project reviewed the new standards and noted one of the changes was the addition of “ancient Jewish” to the list of civilizations contributing to the “rule of law.”

[Of note, the state board will NOT be updating the two African American History standards which caused an uproar last summer (teaching that some Black people benefited from slavery because it taught them useful skills and that race riots and massacres, such as the Greenwood or Rosewood massacres, were acts of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans).]

Besides the disruption (and cost) of changing standards just after new textbooks have been adopted and purchased, what exactly is the FLDOE they trying to accomplish? I have a few ideas…

For years, Florida legislators have been advancing school voucher programs, encouraging students to leave public schools for private religious schools, while simultaneously passing legislation to returning religious instruction to the classroom, blurring the line between church and state. In 2018, Florida passed a law requiring all public schools to display the state motto, “In God We Trust.” This past session, legislators passed HB 931, allowing school districts to implement volunteer chaplain programs “to provide support, services and programs to students.”

By adding the contributions of “ancient Jewish” civilizations’ contribution to the origins of the rule of law into state standards, Florida may be attempting to further entrench Christian nationalist ideology into its public school curriculum. A recent blog post (“Florida educators trained to teach students Christian nationalism“) by Judd Legum, an independent journalist and attorney, highlighted concerns surrounding Florida’s recent teacher training course on civic education. Legum had the course materials reviewed by experts in christian nationalism who “said the materials produced by the Florida Department of Education are part of “the Christian nationalist project.” Other reporters have had similar concerns regarding religious indoctrination and the separation of church and state in Florida’s public schools.

Or… the rule change may be designed to allow/encourage the display of the Ten Commandments in public schools, without requiring the passage of legislation. Earlier this month, the Louisiana legislature passed House Bill 71 which, when signed by the governor, will require public schools to display the Ten Commandments in classrooms. Louisiana is the first state to pass such a requirement. The Louisiana bill’s sponsor, Dodie Horton (a republican state representative from the Northwest corner of the state), defended the bill, saying the commandments are the basis of all laws in Louisiana. Utah is considering similar legislation and , in 2023, a similar bill failed to pass the House in Texas.

Why go through the hassle of passing a bill allowing display of the Ten Commandments in public schools when Florida’s Board of Education can quietly approve it in a rule?

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