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Politifact FL: Did a Florida school district send permission slips to teach kids Black history?

Gov. Ron DeSantis stands infront of a podium with his hands spread out, addressing the crowd. Behind him stands a group of children and adults with signs that read "STOP WOKE" and have "CRT" crossed out, meaning no critical race theory.
Daniel A. Varela
/
Miami Herald
Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses the crowd before publicly signing HB7, "individual freedom," also dubbed the "stop WOKE" bill during a news conference at Mater Academy Charter Middle/High School in Hialeah Gardens on Friday, April 22, 2022.

WLRN has partnered with PolitiFact to fact-check Florida politicians. The Pulitzer Prize-winning team seeks to present the true facts, unaffected by agenda or biases.

When Chuck Walter saw the permission slip from his daughter’s Miami school, he turned to social media.

Sharing an image of a form that requested parental signature for his first grader to attend a 30-minute "read-aloud" activity in which she would hear a "book by an African American author," Walter aired his disbelief.

"I had to give permission for this or else my child would not participate???" Walter wrote Feb. 12 on X. The image showed that the library event would involve guests — "fireman/doctor/artist," it read.

Walter told NBC News that he gave the Coral Way K-8 Center teacher "verbal consent" for the Black History Month activity but was told that the form must be signed or his child could not participate.

A photo of a permission slip Coral Way K-8 Center sent home to parents.
(Screenshot via X)
A photo of a permission slip Coral Way K-8 Center sent home to parents.

The image sparked outcry. And soon Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr., responded on X calling news of the permission slip a "hoax."

"Florida does not require a permission slip to teach African American history or to celebrate Black History Month," Diaz wrote Feb. 13. "Any school that does this is completely in the wrong."

Florida Department of Education spokesperson Cailey Myers also told PolitiFact that permission slips are not required for students to receive "ordinary instruction, like African American History, in Florida." Education leaders did not answer our questions about what book was being read during the event.

So, what happened here? The incident appears to have arisen out of confusion over the Parental Rights in Education law, signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2022 and expanded in 2023.

The legislation bans classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in all public schools through 12th grade. The law's supporters say it gives greater parental control over children’s education; critics have dubbed it the "Don’t Say Gay" law.

Rule requires parental consent for 'field trips, extracurricular activities and supplemental programs'

One rule in the new law, 6A-10.085, requires schools to seek parental consent before children can participate in "field trips, extracurricular activities and supplemental programs." It doesn’t say that teaching any particular subject, including Black history, requires permission.

The local district in late November implemented its permission slip policy to comply with the rule. The policy requires parental consent for extracurricular activities, including guest speakers, tutoring sessions and school dances.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools spokesperson Elmo Lugo said in an email to PolitiFact that the event’s description "may have caused confusion," but said the district is working with schools to emphasize the importance of clearly stating what kinds of events require permission.

In this case, Lugo said, the permission slip was sent home "because guest speakers would participate during a school-authorized education-related activity," not because it involved a Black author.

READ MORE: Scholarships for Rosewood, Ocoee descendants are set to continue despite DEI ban, official says

The state’s education department didn’t respond to PolitiFact’s questions about whether it believes the school district was interpreting the law correctly.

In an undated letter addressed to Coral Way’s principal, Florida Board of Education Chair Ben Gibson characterized the state’s policy as a way to "keep parents informed of the extracurricular activities their children are participating in" and said it appeared Coral Way had misinterpreted this as applying to "ordinary instruction."

"This should be obvious on its face, and therefore, those providing guidance to you and your school are either grossly misinterpreting the rule or simply engaged in nothing more than a political ploy," Gibson wrote, according to a copy of the letter that the Department of Education shared with PolitiFact.

Both before and after Walter’s X post, Miami-Dade school board members questioned how the rule was being executed and asked administrative staff to ask the state to clarify how to properly apply the rule.

"There's no permission slip to teach Black history," board member Steve Gallon III said during a Feb. 13 meeting. "And that's the narrative that's been formulated that I think we have to be bold and transparent and open about clarifying and debunking as much as we can."

Teaching African American history is required by state statute and Miami-Dade schools comply with that throughout the year, the district’s chief academic officer, Lourdes Diaz, said in the meeting.

"For teachers to convey curriculum to students in the classroom — that is instruction — but activities that are sponsored by the school, created for students to study or participate in that are outside of that would require a permission form," Diaz told school board members. "But the instruction of a required topic, be it Black history, Holocaust education, women's history, all the other ones, does not require a form, per se."

Our Sources

Samantha Putterman is a fact-checker for PolitiFact based in Florida reporting on misinformation with a focus on abortion and public health.