State Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. has canceled his participation in a Thursday town hall concerning Florida’s standards for teaching African American history.
Diaz confirmed late Wednesday he will not attend the Miami Gardens event, which was announced two weeks ago in response to outcry over the new standards.
In a statement released Wednesday evening, Miami Gardens Sen. Shevrin Jones, one of the forum’s organizers, said Diaz is depriving the community of answers about how African American history will be taught. The state Board of Education approved a 216-page set of new state social studies guidelines, including a requirement that lessons about slavery mention how “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”
“After personally confirming his attendance, it is deeply disappointing that Commissioner Diaz now lacks the will and courage to defend his department’s misguided curriculum changes,” Jones said in a statement. “Instead, the Commissioner and (Gov. Ron) DeSantis’ administration have once again turned their back on the largest Black city in the state and shown who they are working for: not us.”
“The people deserve answers, with or without the Commissioner, and we encourage community members to attend to ask questions and voice concern over these guidelines,” Jones said.
The guideline in the new standards requiring lessons to include that slaves learned beneficial skills has lit a national furor, stoked by DeSantis’ run for President.
The controversy prompted Kamala Harris, the first U.S. Black Vice President, to visit the state twice to decry what she called “gaslighting” about the history of chattel slavery. DeSantis is fundraising off her involvement.
Jones, fellow Democratic Sen. Rosalind Osgood of central Broward County and Miami-Dade School Board member Steve Gallon III organized the forum to discuss the issue. Diaz previously confirmed he would be at the 7 p.m. event Thursday at Antioch Baptist Church.
At 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, CBS News Miami reporter Jim DeFede posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that Diaz was pulling out. An hour later, Diaz responded saying, “There was nothing sudden about my inability to attend Sen. Jones’s town hall. As I told the Senator last week, I will be visiting schools throughout the state to welcome back students, parents and teachers for the first day of school.”
Sixty-one districts start school Thursday.
Osgood called the cancellation “heartbreaking and extremely disappointing.”
“When those standards were set down, they were not vetted through the community,” Osgood said. “The community had a major outcry about it, so the responsible thing for the Commissioner of Education is to come to the community and listen to their concerns. Let them voice their concerns, value and respect them by facing them.”
The forum will go on, Osgood vowed, and she’ll bring the concerns she hears to Tallahassee. Members of the public can RSVP here.
Democratic state Rep. Felicia Robinson, Fed Ingram of the American Federation of Teachers, and Karla Mats of the United Teachers of Dade are also scheduled to be at the event.