Florida school district cancels professor’s civil rights lecture over critical racial theory concerns

MIAMI – A Florida school district has canceled a professor civil rights history workshop for teachers, citing a concern about “important racial theory”- even though his lecture had nothing to do with the subject.

J. Michael Butler, a history professor at Flagler University in St. Augustine, was scheduled to give a presentation Saturday to Osceola County School District teachers called the “Long Lasting Civil Rights Movement,” arguing that the civil rights movement precedes and precedes Martin Luther King Jr.

He said he was shocked to learn why the workshop was canceled via an email on Wednesday but he was not surprised because educators felt increasingly threatened about teaching about race. .

Less than 24 hours before Butler was notified of the cancellation, a state Senate committee moved to legislate Tuesday under the orders of Republican Governor Ron DeSantis to block public schools and private businesses. make people feel “uncomfortable” when they are taught about race. DeSantis also wants to empower parents to sue schools that teach critical race theory.

“There was an atmosphere of fear, an atmosphere created by Governor Ron DeSantis, that blurred the line between fear and opportunity,” Butler said in a phone interview.

“The victim of this censorship is history and facts,” Butler said. “The end game is they’re going to turn civil rights teaching into ‘critical race theory’, and it’s not.”

DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw denied the allegations and pointed out that DeSantis had nothing to do with the local Osceola County controversy – one of the clearest examples of the race theory debate. How the critical race came to Florida public schools.

“The important race theory and the actual history are two different things. Endless attempts to offend Americans by attributing the two have not worked because they are so exhausting,” she said in an email. “So just to be clear, mixing ‘teaching history’ with ‘teaching CRT’ is dishonest.”

Between the local classrooms and the halls of the state Capitol, public school administrators have been able to navigate the difficult educational politics of reinforced state and national forces.

DeSantis — an early opponent of what he calls critical racial theory, or CRT, who also penalizes school districts for Covid mask mandates — is running for re-election and is seen by many as a candidate. president of the GOP in 2024. Although there is little evidence that CRT is taught in Florida public schools, DeSantis pushed for the state school board to ban it and later called on lawmakers kept it in state statute during the legislative session that began two weeks ago.

Other potential Republican hopefuls, like Texas Governor Greg Abbott, have also resisted CRT and school masked mandates, issues that helped bring Glenn Youngkin to the governor’s mansion in Virginia on last year.

CRT is developed in the 1980s as a graduate-level academic framework to highlight and quantify the effects of structural racism, including disparities between blacks and whites in control and prosecution. It is rarely discussed in a high school classroom.

But the term is often misapplied as a shorthand for the notion that the white complex was taught in K-12 schools in lessons about slavery, civil rights, and discrimination, all the core elements of the national narrative long before the emergence of critical racial theory in law schools and graduate schools.

The debate over the teaching of racial history in education kicks off in 2020 amid parental uncertainty over Covid lockdowns, distance learning for children and “against racism“Educate. And last year, organizations like the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, and the US Legislative Exchange Council, which produces model bills for Republican goals, Webinar organizers warn that teaching what they call critical race theory in schools is not American.

At the local level, school board members like Terry Castillo of Osceola County said she has received unprecedented attention from parents about the debate.

“Florida school districts are in a precarious position as we navigate an anti-CRT administrative order that has little guidance but promises powerful consequences if not implemented.” She said in a statement pointing out how “the school board has been punished for going against the governor’s orders regarding the masking mandate. ”

Castillo said she was initially unaware that Butler’s seminar had been canceled and that she was informed by the superintendent, Debra Pace, that the board of directors initially wanted to postpone it because of concerns about the spread of Covid. .

But as the discussion grew more intense in Tallahassee, Castillo said, Pace also became concerned about the details of Butler’s lecture on the history of civil rights.

According to an email Pace sent Wednesday to “social science educators” scheduled to attend the event, a copy of the email was shared by Butler and independently verified by NBC News, the district The school district wants a committee to review his presentation.

“I regret we were unable to deliver the professional development as planned,” Pace wrote.

“We needed an opportunity to review them before training based on current conversations across our state and in our community about critical race theory,” she continued, said that the school district had only received a summary of his presentation.

“I am aware of the potential for negative distraction if we do not actively review the content and plan its presentation carefully,” Pace wrote, adding that the workshop could not be scheduled. immediately because of other contradictions.

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Pace did not respond to a written request for comment, nor did she provide a copy of her original email upon request. She did not contest the copy provided by Butler.

Butler said he did not share his full presentation with the school district. In the presentation he provided to NBC News, Butler did not address the theory, nor structural racism, or anti-racism.

Butler said he knew why the presentation was canceled from an email, delivered to him by one of the teachers registered to attend. The teacher locked his Twitter account for fear of being exposed for speaking out.

Grace Leatherman, executive director of the National Council on Historical Education, or NCHE, a national nonprofit group, says her organization sponsors a seminar program in partnership with the county and program This program is funded through a grant with the Department of Education.

She said in an email that the organization was informed Wednesday that the workshop could not take place because documents had to be reviewed. She added that the conference is part of a series of events her organization is running in the district and it cannot be moved.

“The county has clarified that the event may be held at a later date subject to the revision of the document. NCHE will not be continuing this event, but looks forward to continuing our longstanding commitment to Osceola County teachers,” said Leatherman.

In a later phone interview, Leatherman said that while the cancellation was not due to the district’s request to edit documents, “simply, it was clear that we didn’t want the presenters to feel that way. they need to edit or edit their own work. . ”

“We don’t think that’s appropriate,” she said.

Butler said a board member also informed him that local administrators felt the topic had raised CRT “red flags” in the district. Leatherman said the school district told NCHE that the conference could not take place because Butler’s document needed to be reviewed, but could be held at a later date with the condition of correction – however, post-controversial needed, rescheduling is not feasible.

Butler says: This is all fact-based guidance. This is not based on theory. This is not a doctrine. ”

Butler said he believes the legislation being debated in Tallahassee is too vague and that it “makes any topic on the scoreboard likely to be labeled as a potentially counterintuitive racial theory.” .

“And the end result is that any teacher training program can be canceled, postponed, kicked out so that never happens,” he said.

The bill’s sponsor, Senator Manny Diaz Jr., a Republican, said in a text message that the law wouldn’t actually ban teaching critical race theory; rather, he said, it would provide for “the accurate and objective teaching of history on all the subjects listed.”

“I think part of the confusion” in teaching the history of basic civil rights “is the confusion that has been created about what a CRT is or not,” says Diaz.

Marc Caputo reports from Miami, and Teaganne Finn reports from Washington, DC

https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/florida-school-district-cancels-professors-civil-rights-lecture-critic-rcna13183 Florida school district cancels professor’s civil rights lecture over critical racial theory concerns

Jake Nichol

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