House mulls bill that would debunk parts of HB 999

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The Florida Legislature and Governor Ron DeSantis have worked diligently to establish a clear stance on their views for diversity, equity and inclusion in the state’s education system.

Still, a new bill is working to combat those ideals. Committee substitute House Bill 287 (CS/HB 287) proposed by Rep. Susan Plasencia, R-Orange, in the Education and Employment Committee, sheds light on topics that past legislation, including HB 999 and HB 7, have tried to silence.

The bill that has yet to be titled amends its original text to include Asian American and Pacific Islander history to be added to public schools’ curriculum under specific instruction, among many other recently controversial topics.

Other historical events, including the Holocaust, African American slavery and the Civil Rights movement, have also been noted as subjects to include in “specific instruction.”

Tallahassee Community College student Chelsea Wang is a first-generation Chinese American from New York City. Wang’s parents immigrated from Fujian, China, and she would love for her culture to be discussed more in the classroom.

“Our history isn’t talked about even as much as other ethnic groups,” Wang said. “It is important to talk about things, even if it is uncomfortable… and it’s only uncomfortable because they aren’t talked about enough.”

Wang doesn’t sympathize with those who believe certain topics shouldn’t be discussed because, like other Americans, contributions from her ancestors have helped benefit the nation and shouldn’t be kept in the dark.

“Ice cream, gunpowder, paper and a lot of things were invented in China,” Wang said. “Learning about history will help open up a more cultured environment.”

In February, protesters took to the streets of Tallahassee to stand up to DeSantis and the Florida Department of Education after they decided to ban an AP African American studies course. Critical race theory has also been on the chopping block due to claims that children may feel uncomfortable or targeted when discussing sensitive topics.

The pushback from the super-majority isn’t a factor for this bill’s subject, which highlights the importance of different ethnic and marginalized groups, including women, African and Asian American, and their contributions to American democracy and the advancement of the country despite hardships.

“An understanding of the ramifications of prejudice, racism, and stereotyping, and an examination of what it means to be a responsible and respectful person, for the purposes of encouraging tolerance of diversity in a pluralistic society and for nurturing and protecting democratic values and institutions …” according to the bill’s text.

Cydney Offord, a first-grade teacher at Riley Elementary School, believes certain information is too heavy for younger students but can still be introduced.

“It is important for students to learn about these topics; however, younger kids may not be able to understand,” Offord said. “As students get older, they need to learn and understand the rich history so we can move forward.”

Carefully worded, the text includes a disclaimer in closing, ensuring parents’ rights to examine and opt their children out of conversations they do not agree with.

CS/HB 287 is on the docket for its next reading while its corresponding bill in the Senate, 294, floats through the chamber after being introduced last month.

If this bill is passed, it will go into effect on July 1.