Fact Check

Did Publisher Propose Removing Rosa Parks' Race from Florida Textbook?

"She was told to move to a different seat," the lesson said, without an explanation of segregation.

Published March 20, 2023

Updated March 24, 2023
 (Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Image courtesy of Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Claim:
In an effort to comply with Florida's new "Stop W.O.K.E. Act" law, the publisher of a Florida textbook submitted a draft revision that altered a section on Rosa Parks to remove any mention of her race or of racial segregation.
Context

The publisher says the changes provided to Florida officials were an overreaction to a vaguely written Florida law; the publisher has since re-written the section on Rosa Parks to include mention of her race in the most recent version of that lesson.

On March 19, 2023, The New York Times reported on purported changes to a school lesson on Rosa Parks made by a publisher, Studies Weekly, when submitting its material to a Florida state review of educational materials: 

In an attempt to cater to Florida, at least one publisher made significant changes to its materials, walking back or omitting references to race, even in its telling of the Rosa Parks story.

The publisher, Studies Weekly, mostly serves younger students, with a focus on science and social studies, and its curriculum — short lessons in weekly pamphlets — is used in 45,000 schools across the country, according to its website. Its social studies materials are used in Florida elementary schools today.

The New York Times compared three versions of the company's Rosa Parks story, meant for first graders: a current lesson used now in Florida, an initial version created for the state textbook review and a second updated version.

With the 2022 passage of the "Stop W.O.K.E. Act," championed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida state law prohibited instruction that would, as The New York Times described, "compel students to feel responsibility, guilt or anguish for what other members of their race did in the past, among other limits." Specifically, the law reads:

It shall constitute discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, or sex under this section to subject any student or employee to training or instruction that espouses, promotes, advances, inculcates, or compels such student or employee to believe …  a person, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the person played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, national origin, or sex. 

In Florida, educational materials must be approved at the state level, with different subjects undergoing a review each year. But the text of this law, critics have noted, is vague, and potentially makes it a violation of law to teach about historical events involving racial injustice. The New York Times reporting focused on examples of publishers changing material in an effort to satisfy this law. 

With respect to Rosa Parks, the Times analyzed three versions of the lessons. These included the version of the lesson currently approved (pre-2023 review), a version that was first submitted to Florida regulators for review (an initial version for review) and a re-worked version for that same review:

In the current lesson on Rosa Parks, segregation is clearly explained: "The law said African Americans had to give up their seats on the bus if a white person wanted to sit down." But in the initial version created for the textbook review, race is mentioned indirectly. "She was told to move to a different seat because of the color of her skin," the lesson said.

In the initial version for the review, Ms. Parks was told to move because of "the color of her skin." In the updated version [submitted to the textbook review], race is not mentioned at all. "She was told to move to a different seat," the lesson said, without an explanation of segregation.

The changes made for the Florida review were first highlighted by the anti-censorship group Florida Freedom to Read in November 2022:

In a news release, Studies Weekly confirmed that such a change was made for the review, but argued it was an internal mistake and an over-reaction:

Because the Florida Department of Education provided no guidance on interpreting Florida House Bill 7, Studies Weekly, like every publisher, has had to decipher how to comply with their legislation. That being said, during the Florida social studies adoption, individuals in our curriculum team severely overreacted in their interpretation of HB 7 and made unapproved revisions. 

Typically, our quality assurance processes would have flagged and denied edit approval. Unfortunately, during the final hours before the deadline, they circumvented our established protocols in an attempt to submit their revisions on time. We have identified those individuals, taken corrective action, and implemented additional safeguards to avoid any issues in the future.

The company said that the version sent for review will not enter any curricula, and the organization has added mention of race to the story. "We find the omission or altering of historical facts to be abhorrent and do not defend it," the company added.

Because, however, Studies Weekly acknowledged the change and stated it was in response to the Stop W.O.K.E. Act, the claim that a publisher altered — at least temporarily — a lesson on Rosa Parks to avoid any mention of race is true.

Sources

House Bill 7 (2022) - The Florida Senate. https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2022/7/ByVersion. Accessed 20 Mar. 2023.

Mervosh, Sarah. "Florida Scoured Math Textbooks for 'Prohibited Topics.' Next Up: Social Studies." The New York Times, 16 Mar. 2023. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/16/us/florida-textbooks-african-american-history.html.

"Studies Weekly Responds to the New York Times Article about the Florida State Adoption." PRWeb, https://www.prweb.com/releases/2023/3/prweb19233245.htm. Accessed 20 Mar. 2023.

Updates

Update [March 24, 2023]: Revised headline and claim for clarity.

Alex Kasprak is an investigative journalist and science writer reporting on scientific misinformation, online fraud, and financial crime.

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