Clay County teacher: Can parents exclude students from lessons on how enslaved people benefited from slavery?

Zoey Fields

A Clay County sixth-grade teacher said she has concerns about a new state Social Studies standard about the teaching of slavery that says “instruction includes house slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

The standard falls under the unit designed to analyze events that “involved or affected Africans from the founding of the nation through Reconstruction,” according to the Florida’s State Academic Standards in Social Studies for the year 2023.

Click here to view the Florida State Social Studies Academic Standards. This specific standard can be found under ss.68.aa.2.3.

Kelly Stoudnour teaches at Thunderbolt Elementary School in Fleming Island and attended the school board meeting Thursday night to address the issues. Stoudnour said she is “concerned” and “outraged” as both a teacher and a mother.

“The notion that slaves, in some instances ‘benefitted’ is heartbreaking, historically inaccurate and wrong,” Stoudnour said. “While the end of slavery stopped the whipping, sexual assault and selling of family members, slaves did not obtain personal benefit. Most freed slaves lived in desperate, rural poverty as they were denied education and wages while enslaved. It is believed that a quarter of freed slaves died from disease or hunger.”

Stoudnour said she believes Clay County can do better as a community by standing together against this new standard.
Clay County school board members had no say in this standard, as it was decided by the state Dept. of Education.Photo byClay County District Schools

“Florida seems to pride itself on parental rights in their child’s education, so at the very least, I am requesting parents have the right to have their children excluded from these lessons on objection to historical inaccuracies and moral judgment. I sincerely hope the school board will extend the personal rights and choices to this standard as other situations in education,” she said.

No board members responded to Stoudnour.

The Florida Department of Education approved these standards on July 19 after more than two dozen people spoke out against them during the public comment section of the meeting.

MaryLynn Magar, who was appointed to the State Board of Education by Gov. Ron DeSantis in March, told The Tallahassee Democrat that the darkest parts of American history are addressed in the newly updated standards.

"Everything is there," Magar said. "The darkest parts of our history are addressed, and I’m very proud of the task force. I can confidently say that the DOE and the task force believe that African American history is American history, and that’s represented in those standards."

The National Education Association, a union representing teacher voices across the country, issued a press release calling this decision “a blow to our students and nation.”

“How can our students ever be equipped for the future if they don’t have a full, honest picture of where we’ve come from? Florida’s students deserve a world-class education that equips them to be successful adults who can help heal our nation’s divisions rather than deepen them,” Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar said. “Gov. DeSantis is pursuing a political agenda guaranteed to set good people against one another, and in the process, he’s cheating our kids. They deserve the full truth of American history, the good and the bad.”

Clay County school board member Beth Clark was the only board member to respond to inquiries about the new standard.

“This is something the Florida Department of Education lays down for legislation, so the school board has nothing to do with it anyways,” Clark said in an interview with NewsBreak.

She said the Florida Department of Education reached out to approximately 23 of the top, Black scholars nationwide and received information from them on how to do some of the teaching.

William Allen is a political advisor and member of the “working group” that collaborated to write the state standard. In an interview with NPR, Allen said that the sentence people are taking issue with “explains itself.”

“Those who were held in slavery possess skills, whether they developed them before being held in slavery, while being held in slavery or subsequently to being held in slavery, from which they benefited when they applied themselves in the exertion of those skills,” Allen said.

When asked if he sees anything written in the standard that makes slavery seem “nice,” Allen made reference to Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass.

“When I look at that language, I see what Booker T. Washington meant when he entitled his autobiography ‘Up From Slavery’ rather than ‘Down In Slavery,’” Allen told NPR. “I see what Frederick Douglass meant when he described his slave mistress teaching him to read only at the beginning because his owner put a stop to it. But that small glimmer of light was enough to inspire him to turn it into a burning flame of illumination from which he benefited and his country benefited.”

Vice President Kamala Harris has spoken out against the new standard and rejected Gov. Ron DeSantis’ invitation to discuss the issues.

"Just yesterday, in the state of Florida, they decided middle school students will be taught that enslaved people benefited from slavery,” Harris said during a July 20 convention for the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. “They insult us in an attempt to gaslight us, and we will not stand for it — we who share a collective experience in knowing we must honor history and our duty in the context of legacy."

The rest of the 216-page standards document includes specific standards about slavery, including the development of slavery and the “conditions for Africans during their passage to America.” It also covers how slave codes resulted in enslaved people becoming property without rights, the Civil War, abolitionist movements, Jim Crow Laws, lynchings, revolts by slaves and contributions of Black Americans during both world wars.

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Accredited journalist with experience covering a wide range of stories consisting of breaking news, city and county government, crime and courts, feature stories and local interest. Twitter: @zoeyfields0

Jacksonville, FL

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