Lare Allen, president of the Osceola County Education Association, went to one of the three “listening tour” stops in Central Florida last week, hoping to observe discussions on proposed new standards in K-12 civics and other subjects.
But what he found was about 15 people in attendance. The Department of Education presented a PowerPoint. Only three people provided public comments.
“My biggest disappointment is that this was not advertised or more widespread,” Allen told the Florida Phoenix. He said that the presentation given by Florida’s Department of Education lasted about 10 minutes and each speaker was given two minutes to express their concerns about the standards.
“It was over quickly,” he said.
The education department set up the “listening tours” in three Florida counties to get feedback on proposed new standards for civics education, the Holocaust, and other crucial subjects.
But so far, it’s been a frustrating process.
Some Floridians have found it difficult to access the tour stops, because the events were not well communicated to the public and there’s been no public video or audio record of the meetings for average Floridians to see. The first two listening stops were in Miami-Dade and Osceola counties. The last will be this Wednesday, in Baker County in Northeast Florida.
So while the department says it encourages public input, the few stops, sparse attendance, and lack of audio or video recordings limit the public from participating in discussions.
Allen, from Osceola, said he decided to go to the Osceola tour stop because he wanted to stress to teachers and others that what’s in these standards will have long-term effects and feedback is essential.
“We’re setting up thought processes for decades to come,” he told the Phoenix.
Of the few in attendance, Allen said the speakers had some concerns about the accuracy of the proposed civic standards. But those concerns won’t be known to the public at large because the Department of Education has not released official public audio or video recording.
How civics is taught in public schools has become a point of discussion in recent months.
In particular, the draft civics education standards have worried some educators because the proposed standards gloss over some of America’s more uncomfortable history. The proposed standards do not use the word ‘slavery’ once, though there there are allusions to it, such as mention of the abolitionist movement.
Antonio White, the first vice president of United Teachers of Dade, brought up this very point at the Miami tour stop last Tuesday, according to video clips provided by the Miami-Dade teacher union.
“It is a glaring omission to leave slavery out of the civic standards,” said White during public comment.
He also mentioned a particular qualm with one of the high school civic 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 Miami 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.”
Karla Hernandez-Mats, president of the United Teachers of Dade, attended the tour stop in Miami-Dade County last Tuesday, too.
She was frustrated with how school districts and teachers were given short notice of the listening tour. A memo went out to school districts on Friday, May 28. That was the Friday of Memorial Day weekend. The stop in Miami-Dade County was Tuesday, June 1, giving educators and concerned citizens little time to prepare for the tour.
“I think it was intentionally done this way. I don’t think they want public comment,” she said in a conversation with the Phoenix following the Miami tour stop.
And civics are not the only standards being evaluated and up for discussion. The tour stops are supposed to cover several new and revised standards, including some on Holocaust education, some standards regarding students with cognitive disabilities and what’s known as “Florida’s Character Education” standards.
But not all of these draft standards have been available in time for for the tours.
The new “Substance Use and Abuse” standards are also in consideration, but those draft standards have only been on the Department of Education’s website since late last week, meaning that the public has had less time to read and interpret the standards, and even less time to comment on them to the Department of Education.
Wednesday is the final listening tour stop, in Northeast Florida, at Macclenny Elementary School, 1 Wild Kitten Dr., Macclenny, FL, starting at 6 p.m.