WASHINGTON (AP) — The Congressional Black Caucus is pushing the White House, Justice Department and the Department of Education to adopt an “aggressive legal strategy” to scrutinize recent changes to Florida’s Black history curriculum.
The caucus wants the federal agencies to examine whether Florida school districts are violating federal discrimination law following changes to the curriculum in the state, from banning books covering racial themes to a recent decision to add language about the positive impacts of slavery.
Caucus Chairman, Nevada Rep. Steven Horsford said at a Thursday press conference he met with Education Secretary Miguel Cardona this week to discuss actions that might be taken. He added that “we have discussed with the White House the need to have a very aggressive legal strategy to want to uphold the law.”
However, lawmakers did not lay out the specifics on how the departments might use their resources.
The departments have a number of tools. In June, the Madison County, Kentucky school district reached a settlement with Justice to resolve complaints of widespread harassment of Black and multiracial students. Earlier this week, the Education Department launched an investigation of Harvard University’s policies on legacy admissions.
Florida and its governor, GOP presidential candidate Ron DeSantis, have been in the news much of the past year because of steps taken in addressing what DeSantis calls a “woke” agenda and liberal indoctrination in the classroom. DeSantis signed legislation last year directing the Florida Board of Education to set new standards, which resulted in the recent curriculum changes that say enslaved people benefited from skills that they learned.
In a tweet Thursday, the governor’s press secretary Jeremy Redfern criticized the move, saying: “The federal government wants to prevent teaching our nation’s history.” He also questioned the scope of such a move. Redfern also asked in a tweet if other educational reference material already in existence stating similar information as the new curriculum would be examined as well.
Horsford said Thursday that what is happening in Florida highlights what many caucus members see as an attack on the rights of Black Americans across the country.
He cited a letter from several state attorneys general to the CEOs of the 100 largest U.S. companies cautioning them of the legal consequences for using race as a factor in hiring and employment despite the Supreme Court decision outlawing affirmative action only affecting college admissions.
Several caucus members also cited the action this month by the Alabama state legislature refusing to comply with a Supreme Court ruling that instructed lawmakers to redraw their congressional map and potentially set up two majority Black districts.
“The attacks against black people and blackness are coordinated, well funded, coming from every side and they are about race,” he said “We need to be clear about who we are up against and what we must do to win. There is so much at stake.”
Horsford said the stakes were highlighted this week when President Joe Biden established a national monument honoring slain teen Emmett Till and his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley. “Their story is a reminder of the horrors of our nation’s past,” he said.
Rep. Maxwell Frost, a Democrat from Florida, said in addition to leaning on federal government, there is a grassroots effort underway in Florida to let parents know their rights and how to protect their children and what they are being taught.
“We have 12 or 11 organizers working every day in central Florida,” he said. “It’s a long haul and there’s a lot of work to do. And again, it’s not just about Florida. This is about the entire country.”