A reference to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has been removed from the Sarasota County School District’s fifth-grade curriculum in accordance with the Florida Department of Education’s ban on Critical Race Theory (CRT) that was passed in June.
Sarasota parents of fifth-grade students received a letter from the FDOE this week discussing the change of a “reading passage” in the students’ textbook, but did not directly mention Black Lives Matter as the subject of removal.
While the letter itself did not mention Black Lives Matter, Sarasota County School District spokeswoman Kelsey Whealy wrote to WUSF on Thursday, revealing that the described passage “referred to a Black Lives Matter protest.” She then explained that the new passage replaces the BLM protest with a general protest march during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s, specifically in 1963.
She also highlights that the decision to change the passage was made in a joint effort by the elementary curriculum department, along with the executive director, chief academic officer, superintendent, and the textbook publisher, Benchmark Advance.
Neither Sarasota district leadership nor Benchmark Advance has reached back out to WUSF who has requested interviews to discuss their decision.
In the past year, leading up to these recent events, Sarasota has been a hotbed for issues regarding CRT and BLM being taught in schools.
In October 2020, BLM protestors and a group of mothers known as Concerned Parents of Sarasota Schools (CPSS) packed a school board meeting that discussed whether or not BLM should be taught in schools, without any mention of CRT.
According to 8 On Your Side, while attending the meeting, founder of CPSS, Ashley Cote, called BLM a “radical, terrorist group” and expressed her concern of teachers giving their political views to students.
“If you’re a teacher, your child shouldn’t know what your political stance is. That’s not in the classroom, and that’s been part of the problem,” said Cote.
Yet, spokesperson for the BLM protestors, Sarah Parker, suggested that teaching about BLM is not about politics, but rather about teaching black history.
“I don’t understand why this is even a debate honestly. We teach Math, Science, English, Spelling, and History. This is history,” Parker told 8 On Your Side.
In a board meeting in July 2021, the discussion of whether or not BLM should be taught in schools was part of a broader discussion about CRT and the rules established with the new amendment.
The meeting focused on a teacher pledge that was brought to light on Facebook by a local organization known as the Transparency Project. Meeting organizers wanted to remove teachers who they said signed the pledge. The pledge, provided by Sarasota Magazine, stated, “We, the undersigned educators, refuse to lie to young people about U.S. history and current events—regardless of the law.”
While July’s meeting did not mention BLM, the recent removal from students’ textbooks shows that CRT and BLM will continue to be an issue under the new law.
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Casey Owens is a contributing writer for The Florida Capital Star. Follow him on Twitter at @cowensreports. Email tips to [email protected]