Florida Politics | By Anne Geggis | November 11, 2021
Is it being taught? Palm Beach County officials say no.
It’s called critical race theory and the West Palm Beach Republican told a joint meeting between the legislative delegation and the School Board Wednesday that he’s hearing concerns it’s happening in the same schools both he and his children call their alma mater. And it’s a concern that might cause an exodus from public schools, he said.
“Is there curriculum material or teacher training that separates students based on race or teaches students through the lens of racial discrimination?” he asked.
Critical race theory has emerged as a political issue this past year. Roth said he heard about it during a Facebook discussion with Rep. Randy Fine of Brevard County. Critical race theory is an academic concept that posits systemic racism is embedded into American institutions and processes. Gov. Ron DeSantis has riffed against it. The Virginia Governor’s race included an advertisement for the Republican candidate featuring a mother who was unable to get a novel about slavery’s horrors taken out of the curriculum because of the Democratic candidate’s policies.
Superintendent Mike Burke said the district does not teach critical race theory to Palm Beach County students. They do learn about history, according to state standards, which do not gloss over historical facts like slavery that might make some people feel uncomfortable.
The term, “critical race theory,” Burke said, is being used to get people angry about what’s going on in schools, but he welcomes the opportunity to talk about it.
“This is a manufactured term to incite, to try to divide us,” Burke said.
“Boom,” said Sen. Bobby Powell, a Democrat from West Palm Beach, nodding in approval.
Roth also wanted to know if “gender fluidity” was being taught. He said he’d heard enough to be concerned.
Burke said “gender fluidity” is not being taught in Palm Beach County schools, but “tolerance” is.
“We want everyone to feel welcome on our campuses,” he said.
Roth said Palm Beach County schools will be asked to prove it in specific, concrete terms.
“I’m just saying as a friendly warning that I have friends that are … requesting books and requesting materials or going to public school libraries,” Roth said.
Sen. Tina Polsky, another Democrat, said she found it “shocking” that individual school districts are being accused of this.
“We obviously have standards up at the state,” she said.
Roth, later, said he is not accusing, just trying to start a conversation.
“I brought it up so I can have an open dialogue with the superintendent,” he said.
School Board member Erica Whitfield said Wednesday’s meeting reflected what’s going on nationally with schools, and she had a plea regarding a current joint resolution that would require school board candidates to indicate their political affiliation when running.
“I’m really hopeful that you will not vote to support partisan races for school boards,” she said. “I think it could be very detrimental to the schools in the state of Florida … What we want on our school boards is people who want to represent the community and not have to pick a side.”