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‘Black Lives Matter’ removed from Sarasota 5th grade curriculum due to critical race theory concerns

 A picture from the Benchmark Advances website, depicting some of the curriculum materials they offer in Florida schools
A picture from the Benchmark Advances website, depicting some of the curriculum materials they offer in Florida schools

The Sarasota County School district has removed a mention of a Black Lives Matter protest from a reading passage in fifth grade curriculum materials, saying it “may be controversial” and “in conflict” with the Florida Department of Education’s edict not to teach content that constitutes “Critical Race Theory,” officials said Thursday.

Parents of fifth-graders received a letter this week alerting them of a change to a “reading passage,” but the letter did not specify the content in question.

“The text referred to a Black Lives Matter protest,” district spokeswoman Kelsey Whealy said in an email to WUSF on Thursday.

It was replaced with a “new passage” that “refers to a general protest march in 1963,” she said.

The decision to change what she described as a “vocabulary practice text” was made by the elementary curriculum department, along with the executive director, chief academic officer, superintendent and the textbook publisher Benchmark Advance, Whealy said.

Florida banned the teaching of critical race theory in June, a move hailed by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who said at the time: “the woke class wants to teach kids to hate each other, rather than teaching them how to read, but we will not let them bring nonsense ideology into Florida’s schools.”

The amendment to the state education code also banned material from the 1619 Project, a New York Times magazine project that explores the role of slavery, while saying “instruction on the required topics must be factual and objective, and may not suppress or distort significant historical events, such as the Holocaust, slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the civil rights movement and the contributions of women, African American and Hispanic people to our country.”

WUSF has requested interviews with Sarasota district leadership behind the decision to remove the “Black Lives Matter” reference, as well as Benchmark Advance, but has not yet heard back.

The letter sent to parents on Oct. 11 said the reference was in a “student book” and was “not available for review during the adoption process” of the curriculum.

“After further review, it was noted that one of those passages contained content that may be controversial and in conflict with FLDOE’s requirements,” it added.

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“For this reason, the school district, after consultation with the Department of Education and the textbook publisher has decided to remove the passage in question from the upcoming unit and replace it with an alternate passage with content that touches upon these sensitive topics in a manner that conforms with state guidelines.”

The letter concluded by promising to “continue to proactively review the content taught to your children.”

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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