9 Investigates

Most Florida school districts in Florida struggle to teach African American history, experts say

School districts in Florida are now required to teach the history of the Ocoee Massacre.

The state’s African American History Task Force is expected to finalize recommendations on how to approach that by the end of the month.

However, there are concerns because a majority of districts in Florida are already struggling to teach African American history.

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In 1994, Florida became one of the few states to require African American history to be taught across all courses.

However, the chair of the African American History Task Force told Investigative Reporter Daralene Jones that only a handful of districts in the state are doing what they would consider to be an “exemplary job.”

Tony Hill, a former state lawmaker, knows Black history and Florida’s connection to it.

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That’s why in 1994, he and other Black lawmakers fought to make sure Florida students learned about it.

The African American History Task Force he chairs through the Florida Department of Education is charged with helping districts incorporate the history of Ocoee.

White supremacists burned property and forced Black residents out of town after some of them tried to vote. Three years later, it happened again to the Black community in Rosewood.

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9 Investigates reviewed recent task force reports. Just three years ago, educators surveyed at a training summit for African American history told facilitators they were only “somewhat familiar” or “not familiar at all” with the law requiring the curriculum.

Even fewer were familiar with the task force.

But why is it so difficult to bring those history lessons into the classroom?

READ: ‘We need these symbols to remind us’: Ocoee Massacre kept in Central Florida memories 100 years later

“There’s a sensitivity issue,” said Nicholas Prince, Volusia County’s minority achievement director. “It could be a knowledge issue, it’s just … flat-out they haven’t been exposed to it so they don’t know they should be teaching it.”

Channel 9 visited Volusia County, one of 10 districts out of the state’s 67 in the state identified by the task force as doing exemplary work.

But Prince conceded the coursework is not in every classroom.

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“Just the fact that I’m here, that I exist, that this role exists, shows we are committed to making the change,” he said.

On the campus of Edward Waters College, the first historically Black college in Florida, Hill said that without penalties and more funding, more districts will continue to lag behind.

“We have to continually, over the years, stay at that level of $100,000,” Hill said.

That money helps fund the summit where they train educators and provide information on resources available. Last year, 500 logged onto the virtual event, which typically sees fewer than 50 registrants.

Even when the recommendations are finalized, it will still be up to school districts to figure out how to best implement a curriculum to teach about the Ocoee Massacre.

Jones has been in contact with several local districts to discuss project based curriculums that could work based on a documentary she and a team at Eyewitness News produced in November 2020.

Adam Poulisse, WFTV.com

Adam Poulisse joined WFTV in November 2019.