Florida’s only Black Republican member of the congressional delegation, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), has engaged in a heated online dispute with the DeSantis administration over newly implemented teaching standards that require middle school students to learn about how some African Americans benefited from slavery.
Donalds, a sophomore Republican who previously served as a state representative and endorsed former President Donald Trump, took to social media to express his concerns about the teaching standards.
In a tweet, he stated that “the attempt to feature the personal benefits of slavery is wrong & needs to be adjusted,” while also acknowledging that the new African American learning standards are generally “robust” and “accurate.”
He emphasized that highlighting the benefits of slavery was not the intended goal and expressed faith in the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) to make necessary corrections.
However, Florida Department of Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr., responded later in the day, asserting that the state would not alter the teaching standards “at the behest of a woke @WhiteHouse, nor at the behest of a supposedly conservative congressman.” This statement indicated a refusal to bow to outside pressure.
Governor Ron DeSantis’ spokesperson, Jeremy Redfern, also criticized Donalds on social media, suggesting that some conservatives in the federal government were perpetuating a false narrative similar to what originated from the White House.
The controversy surrounding Florida’s new teaching standards has garnered significant attention and criticism since their approval.
Vice President Kamala Harris visited Jacksonville to condemn Florida’s education officials, and civil rights leaders have hinted at the possibility of legal action against the state.
The adopted standards require middle school students to learn that “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit” as part of a new Black history curriculum.
The Florida Department of Education has defended these standards, asserting that they offer a comprehensive view of American history and highlight how slaves overcame adversity rather than solely portraying them as victims.
This dispute over teaching standards has transformed into a proxy battle between the DeSantis administration and former President Trump, with top Trump advisor Jason Miller praising Donalds as a “conservative hero” and denouncing attempts to “smear” him.
Donalds has maintained that he generally agrees with the Florida education department’s new standards but opposes a single sentence that seemed to dignify the skills acquired by slaves as a result of their enslavement. He accused his critics of being disingenuous and attempting to score political points.
Governor Ron DeSantis, in a speech before the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, defended the teaching standards, claiming that they were misrepresented by Harris and others.
He insisted that the standards do not suggest that slavery was “good” but rather aim to provide an honest account of history, including its injustices.
DeSantis contended that his administration’s stance was a response to the efforts of others to use schools to advance their agendas. He emphasized the importance of teaching the complete history, including its shortcomings, while rejecting the notion that it wasn’t sufficient for some critics.