FL education agency did not record video or audio of public comments criticizing proposed civics standards

Volunteers unfurl a giant banner printed with the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

The first stop on the Florida Department of Education’s “listening tour” on civics education standards had no official audio or video, which means residents across the state couldn’t listen in to crucial discussions, comments and feedback unless they were there, in Miami.

The first of three listening tours took place on Tuesday at Miami Jackson Senior High School, according to the department’s website.

“Unfortunately, the event was not recorded,” said Cheryl Etters, spokesperson for the Department of Education.

In fact, the only evidence of the initial listening tour was a 13-page PowerPoint presented at the event, which is posted on the agency’s standards review website.

The tour was advertised as an opportunity for the public to provide feedback on how the proposed standards should shape out in areas such as civics, the Holocaust and character education. Some of the standards can be considered controversial, such as the fact that the specific word “slavery” is not in the civics standards.

United Teachers of Dade, a teacher union, had some members speak at the meeting and share their thoughts on the proposed standards.

“I think it was a dog-and-pony show,” said union president Karla Hernández-Mats, who spoke to the Phoenix.

She was frustrated with how school districts were notified about the listening tour, noting that the agency’s memo went out on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend.

She also shared that the Miami-Dade school district is hosting graduation ceremonies this week and part of next week, so some of the faculty and teachers who wanted to attend were unable to.

“I think it was intentionally done this way. I don’t think they want public comment,”  Hernández-Mats said. She told the Phoenix that Chancellor Jacob Oliva from the Department of Education was there along with others from the agency.

Hernández-Mats noted that there were about 30 people in attendance Tuesday. Of those 30-ish people, there were about 12 speakers. She said none of the public comments were in favor of the proposed standards, particularly the proposed civic standards.

“Everyone was saying that we need more. It needs to be robust. This is about learning from our history, and that when we teach children that we let them be critical thinkers,” she told the Phoenix. “That they see the good and the bad and they learn from both. This is how we grow stronger and become a better nation.”

Some critics of the civic standards say that it gives an incomplete history of America.

The United Teachers of Dade shared clips of some of the speakers Tuesday evening with the Phoenix.

One was of Antonio White, the first vice president of United Teachers of Dade, who noted that the civics standards didn’t even mention the word slavery in the entire 21-page draft spanning from kindergarten through 12th grade.

“While it’s true that slavery is covered in social studies standards that are not currently up for adoption, it is a glaring omission to leave slavery out of the civic standards,” White said Tuesday at the listening tour in Miami, based on the clips provided.

He also mentioned a particular qualm with one of the high school civics standards.

“The only mention of ‘Civil War’ is in an example of how states have challenged the federal government regarding states’ rights along side No Child Left Behind and the Affordable Care Act,” he said at the listening tour. “Placing the Civil War as an issue of states’ rights alongside NCLB and ACA diminishes the brutality of the Civil War and perpetuates the lie that the war was not fought over slavery.”

Another speaker from Tuesday, Nancy Lawther, told the Phoenix that she found the standards to be “partial, in both senses of the word — as ‘incomplete’ and at the same time ‘skewed.'” She gave a similar testimony during her public comment Tuesday evening, according to the UTD’s videos.

Hernández-Mats told the Phoenix that officials from the department appeared to be taking notes of public comments, but they quickly left the venue once the event was over.

The Phoenix previously spoke with the Florida Channel asking if they would cover the Miami listening tour but was told that the notice was too short. But they are working on being able to cover the next two tour listening stops – one in Osceola County in central Florida on Thursday and one next Tuesday in Baker County in Northeast Florida.