Undercutting critics, DeSantis signs unanimous bill mandating African American history curriculum

by | May 18, 2023

  • Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed HB 551, requiring inclusion of African American history in school curriculum, undercutting previous criticism of his stance on the subject.
  • The bill, which passed unanimously in the Florida House and Senate, covers a broad spectrum of African American history without advocating specific ideologies.
  • Schools must now annually certify compliance with these instructional requirements and publicly share their curriculum implementation plans, with the law taking effect on July 1, 2023.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed an African American studies bill (House Bill 551) into law today, a move hailed even by some Democrats as a significant stride toward more inclusive education in the state, and which has undercut the arguments of critics who recently accused DeSantis of stifling African American history education.

Previously, critics had attacked DeSantis for banning an Advanced Placement (AP) African American studies course, which included controversial topics such as black feminism, black queer theory, and the reparations movement. They argued that such action was a deliberate attempt to suppress complex narratives about the African American experience.

But today’s the signing of HB 551 paints a more nuanced picture of DeSantis’s stance on the issue. The new legislation underscores Florida’s commitment to an inclusive and balanced education about African American history. The bill further highlights the importance of presenting a broad and well-rounded portrayal of history to students. That aspect was important to the bill’s sponsors, which included State Senator Cory Simon, a Tallahassee Republican, and State Rep. Christopher Benjamin, a Democrat from Miami Gardens.

“It was important to me and my constituents that this legislation was clear on the real fact that ALL of our history, the good, the bad, and the ugly would be taught to our children,” said Benjamin in a press release. “Especially, the parts of our history that reflect the plight and the victories of the African Americans that helped build this great country.”

HB 551, which passed unanimously in both the Florida House and Senate, introduces amendments to existing statutes concerning educational instruction in Florida schools. The legislation focuses on the requirement of an inclusive education about African American history.

According to the bill, African American history, ranging from the history of African peoples before slavery, through the abolitionist movement, to the contributions of African Americans across various sectors of American society, is mandated to be included in the school curriculum.

While the bill emphasizes promoting tolerance, diversity, and understanding of the ramifications of prejudice, racism, and stereotyping, it also stipulates that the classroom instruction and curriculum should not be used to indoctrinate or persuade students to a specific point of view inconsistent with certain state academic standards.

“Political parties may differ in their idea of historical theory, but there can be no disagreement that African American history is a part of the fabric of the country and this state, and that is a mandatory part of the scholastic requirements here in Florida,” Rep. Benjamin said in a press release.

The new legislation includes stringent measures for compliance, accountability, and the implementation of this new curriculum requirement. Schools must annually certify their compliance with the Department of Education and present evidence of meeting these new instructional requirements. They are also required to post an implementation plan on their websites.

This law, which goes into effect on July 1, 2023, demonstrates a commitment to a more comprehensive and balanced presentation of African American history. Despite the criticism faced earlier, Governor DeSantis’s signing of HB 551 reinforces the fact that an accurate representation of history, without any specific persuasion or bias, is crucial for the educational development of students in Florida.


  1. John

    DeSantis has already poisoned the well. Book banning and his engagement in culture wars among other anti democracy policies has shown who he is. Florida is not a free state if you’re a student, teacher, woman, voter, librarian, business, school board member, local district attorney, gay or trans.

    Americans need to heed the words of Martin Niemöller, the German Minister and former U-boat commander, who was sent to a concentration camp by Hitler.

    First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
    Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist.
    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
    —Martin Niemöller

  2. theunvanquishedtruth

    Book banning? I think that books that include violent scenes of rape, explicit homosexual encounters that almost a sodomy primer and books that preach hate for ANY race or ethnic group do not belong in public schools. The mislabeled “Don’t Say Gay” bill was about not allowing explicit sexual content being taught in elementary schools. Teachers are not supposed to persuade students to adopt their religion or personal politics, now that has been expanded to ensure that grooming/persuading impressionable students to adopt a specific sexual lifestyle or become a transvestite does not occur in the schools. As a veteran teacher and semi-professional graduate student, I can assure you that SOME teachers and textbooks were doing exactly that!

    The World History textbook for 9th grade talks about how wrong Ferdinand and Isabella were for driving the Muslim invaders out of Spain, after all they had peacefully governed every Spanish territory other than Castile and Aragon for 600 years! Our students are also making prayer rugs and being taught that Islam is a religion of love. Conversion by the Sword is NOT a statement that is used for describing how Islamic armies swept through the Middle East and beyond and even drove the Christians out of Constantinople and took their beautiful cathedral and turned into a mosque. The texts infer that Mehmet II BUILT IT! History is being re-written. Christianity is not taught with the same depth and requirements as Islam and neither is Judaism, Hinduism or Buddhism, etc. You have NO IDEA what has been happening to education and textbooks since I started teaching in 1975! The vast majority of terrorist acts around the world have been committed by Muslims, but the texts and course content ignore that. I am sure that it is a mere coincidence that Muslims own a major share of the stock in textbooks companies. That is also not talked about!

    Adults have the right to live their life however they want as long as they stay within the laws. However, no one has the right to BRAINWASH another person’s child! That is what is now happening across the United States!

  3. Stan Boling

    I’m betting that the Governor’s now revealed “nuance”, which I welcome, is likely a response to comments and criticisms which in a more normal time would emerge from debated bills rather than after-the-fact-patches developed after the initial sound bites have achieved their desired result. Even the title of this article is framed in countering presumably unwarranted criticism. My take is that there were valid concerns and criticisms of what was being taught but everything is now a battle between good (always “us”) and evil (always “them”) and now there are valid criticisms that the history of blacks and whites in this state can be taught only from a white majority perspective and multiple perspectives cannot be included or explored in public schools. That’s not classical education. I find it extremely helpful for folks to explore their local history of black and white experiences and relations…it’s usually personally accessible and free from perceived macro-level manipulation.

    • MH/Duuuval

      “I’m betting that the Governor’s now revealed “nuance”, which I welcome, is likely a response to comments and criticisms which in a more normal time would emerge from debated bills rather than after-the-fact-patches developed after the initial sound bites have achieved their desired result. Even the title of this article is framed in countering presumably unwarranted criticism.”

      Go to the head of the class, Stan. The Capitalist took dark money funneled in by FP&L — is this still the case?

  4. Germansmith

    Maybe….is an step in the right direction. On the other hand, I would not be very surprise if the curriculum and material tried to portrait the institution of slavery as benign or gloss over the massacres of blacks or the institution of segregation and racism.
    Sometimes is not enough to ban the studies of history, but they may see as necessary to provide an alternative fairy tale.

    It is necessary to teach subjects with the intention of uniting us, that is good, but as long as we do not twist the facts.

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