ORLANDO, Fla. — Education Commissioner Manny Diaz publicly recognized the African American History Task Force for helping to craft the state’s new controversial Black History standards.
However, two task force members told Channel 9 they had nothing to do with creating the new standards.
Dr. Donna Austin and Dr. Brenda Walker said they were never given the opportunity to read the standards until they were made public.
Diaz publicly thanked the African American History Task Force for their work prior to the state Board of Education’s vote to approve the new standards.
“I want to commend Dr. Burns, the African American History Task Force, and the workgroup,” Diaz said.
The state Board of Education and Gov. Ron DeSantis have been under fire since the new standards were approved last week. Critics say the rules try to re-write the history of slavery because the standard includes “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”
The Florida Department of Education has previously said these new standards were created by a separate 13-member “workgroup” with input from the African American History Task Force.
“This is very, very serious and very dangerous for people to say that we had a part hand in this, when in fact, we honestly did not,” Austin said.
“I don’t want my name and reputation associated with the new African American history standards, or the statements that have emanated therefrom,” Walker said.
Former vice chair Dr. Sam Wright said traditionally, the task force has served in an advisory role, making suggestions to the Department of Education and providing resources to educators teaching Black history.
“That’s been the nature of our work. I mean, you got educators, those of us who live the experience of being black or African American in America. So, we’re the best to say what needs to be done,” Wright said.
He said that changed when Diaz appointed six new members to the African American Task Force this summer. Five of them are Republican. None of them have taught in a classroom.
Walker and Austin said the original task force has been left in the dark about decision-making. Wright said that’s why he stepped down from his seat in June.
“It’s been horrific. It’s been a nuisance,” Wright said.
“It’s like them against us,” Austin said.
Task Force members said they were told a workgroup of 13 educators and scholars crafted the language of the new standards, but as of Monday, they still did not know who those 13 members were.
“I think that fans the flames of public distrust. The Department of Education, my recommendation would be to discuss this issue head-on, no anonymity, discuss it head on, because it’s causing many of us angst,” Walker said.
Channel 9 filed a records request with the state Department of Education for a roster of the 13 people in the workgroup.
Channel 9 is working to confirm who the members are and ultimately where the language of the controversial standard originated.
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