PolitiFact FL: DeSantis says he removed critical race theory from schools. Districts say it wasn’t taught.

Published on August 15, 2023 at 9:58 am

As he campaigns for president, Gov. Ron DeSantis often touts his crusade against critical race theory in Florida schools.

“We’ve eliminated critical race theory in our K through 12 schools,” DeSantis said Aug. 4 at a New Hampshire town hall.

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DeSantis also described how he “rooted out” critical race theory in a recent letter to Vice President Kamala Harris, and told NBC News he “eliminated” the theory “because it’s ideology, and we want education, not indoctrination.”

Critical race theory, or CRT, is a broad set of ideas about racism being woven into American systems that’s rooted in legal academia. Experts said the theory is more common in higher education, typically in law or graduate school courses.

Educators, school officials and several Florida public school districts said critical race theory wasn’t taught in Florida’s elementary, middle or high schools.

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Orange County Public Schools “teaches and creates curriculum resource materials that align with the BEST standards, previously known as the Florida Standards,” wrote Renée Burke, the school district’s public information officer. “CRT is not, and has never been, taught in K-12.” (BEST stands for benchmarks for excellent student thinking.)

PolitiFact reached out to DeSantis’ campaign for this fact-check but did not hear back. The Florida Department of Education initially told PolitiFact it was working on a response but did not provide one by deadline.

DeSantis’ “Stop WOKE Act”

In 2022, DeSantis signed into law a prohibition of subjects related to critical race theory in Florida’s workplaces and schools. The law, HB 7, also known as the Stop Wrongs Against Our Kids and Employees Act (Stop WOKE Act), bans teaching that anyone “must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress” based on their race as a result of actions by others in the past.

Although a judge blocked it from taking effect at state colleges and universities, the law — along with the heightened attention on CRT — has had a chilling effect on courses at these institutions. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging HB 7 are from higher education institutions and include several law and history professors.

Critical race theory isn’t one clear-cut philosophy, but more of a changing package of ideas. It has existed in higher education for decades and holds that racism is part of a broader pattern in America: It’s woven into laws, and it shows up in who gets a job interview, the sorts of home loans people are offered, how they’re treated by police and other facets of daily life. More than a dozen states have recently banned critical race theory in public schools.

Florida teachers and state education officials say the issue has been blown out of proportion.

CRT was never a standard in Florida’s K-12 schools

Absent examples from DeSantis and the state, we scoured news clips for mentions of CRT in Florida classrooms and interviewed school district representatives and teachers.

We found a few examples of state education officials objecting to textbooks and courses they said contained CRT teaching. They show the state’s objections to prospective teaching materials and its success in preventing content that it deemed to be CRT-related. But questions remain about the state’s rationale in several cases and its broad definition of CRT and other prohibited topics.

For example, the state’s Department of Education rejected 42 math textbooks in April 2022 it said included CRT and other “indoctrination.” After initially not providing examples, the agency released four textbook pages showing content to which it objected. Two showed bar graphs and equations that measured racial prejudice among different age groups and political affiliations. The others referred to social-emotional learning, an approach that combines lessons with opportunities to address children’s self-awareness and other interpersonal skills.

Most educators and math professors who reviewed the textbooks, however, found nothing objectionable, with three of about 70 reviewers raising concerns about CRT. (One was a member of the conservative Moms for Liberty group; the other two were affiliated with Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian school in Michigan.)

The New York Times reviewed 21 of the rejected books and found that most had “little that touched on race, never mind an academic framework like critical race theory.”

In January, the state said it wouldn’t offer the AP College Board’s African American studies course, citing subjects like Black queer studies, the reparations movement and intersectionality. The state said intersectionality — the way different forms of inequality overlap and build on one another — is a foundation of CRT.

In May, Florida rejected dozens of social studies textbooks over passages that included references to the Black Lives Matter movement, socialism and why some citizens kneel during the national anthem.

Nine Florida public school districts reached by PolitiFact — Broward, Collier, Hillsborough, Orange, Pinellas, Polk, Sarasota, Seminole and St. Lucie counties — confirmed that CRT was not in the curriculum.

Several school districts replied with one word: No.

“Our traditional public schools have not taught, were not teaching, and do not teach critical race theory — it is not a part of the K-12 state standards,” Kelsey Whealy, a Sarasota County Schools spokesperson, wrote in an email.

“No, Critical Race Theory (CRT) was never included in any K-12 curriculum in Seminole County Public Schools,” wrote communications officer Katherine Crnkovich.

Though the theory is more common in higher education, many of those courses have been canceled or scaled back following anti-CRT legislation.

“CRT is a law-school concept, and teachers have been saying all along, it isn’t taught in K-12 here and never was,” Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union, wrote in an email.

Our ruling

DeSantis claimed that his administration “eliminated” critical race theory from Florida’s K-12 schools.

Educators, school officials and several Florida public school districts said the theory has never been part of Florida’s K-12 curriculums. It has been taught primarily at the university level, often appearing in law and graduate courses.

The state has rejected prospective teaching materials in recent years that it claimed was related to CRT. But questions remain about its rationale in several cases and its broad definition of the theory and other prohibited topics.

DeSantis’ claim contains an element of truth, but it ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.

PolitiFact researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

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Samantha Putterman is a fact-checker for PolitiFact based in Florida reporting on misinformation with a focus on abortion and public health.

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