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April 13, 2024

Florida school asks parents for permission to have an African American author read to students

Florida school asks parents for permission to have an African American author read to students

A Florida school district is drawing fire for asking parents to consent to having their children participate in the reading of an African American author’s book to comply with state law.

“I had to give permission for this or else my child would not participate???” wrote one parent, Charles Walter, who posted a photo of a Miami-Dade County Public Schools permission slip to X on Monday evening.

The form describes the activity as a “read aloud” scheduled for Tuesday from 1 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the library. Next to “types of guest that may attend the activity or event,” it says: “fireman/doctor/artist.”

Charles Walter

In an interview Tuesday, Walter, 46, said the form came from his daughter Eva’s first grade teacher at Coral Way K-8 in Miami.

Walter said that, after he saw it, he gave the teacher verbal consent for Eva to take part but was told that if his daughter didn’t return a signed form, she could not participate.

“My daughter didn’t even mention it to me,” Walter said. “She didn’t want me to sign it because she thought it would be boring.”

He added: “The idea that kids can have a say in what activities they participate in is really strange. And then the idea that some kids would be taken out of class, that just seems bizarre.”

The requirement was implemented to comply with the Parental Rights in Education law, which was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2022. Supporters say it gives parents greater control over their children’s education, while critics call it the “Don’t Say Gay” law. The law was expanded to prevent classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in all grades.

DeSantis, a Republican, has signed legislation on several education issues, including what he has called the “Stop WOKE ACT,” which limits how race can be taught in school. He has also accused public schools of liberal indoctrination.

Walter, whose other daughter is a fourth grader at the same school, said he has never had to sign a permission slip for either child to participate in a read aloud or listen to a guest speaker at school in the past.

The permission form policy has been in effect in Miami-Dade County public schools since at least November and requires schools to obtain parental consent for various activities, including when a guest speaker visits a class.

Administrators at Coral Way K-8 declined to comment and referred NBC News to the Miami-Dade County Public Schools district.

A spokesperson for the school district said in a statement: “We realize that the description of the event may have caused confusion, and we are working with our schools to reemphasize the importance of clarity for parents in describing activities/events that would require parental permission. However, in compliance with State Law, permission slips were sent home because guest speakers would participate during a school-authorized education-related activity.”

The district spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment about what book was read to the students or by whom. Walter said all his daughter remembered was that the book was about a boy who could do anything and that all of her classmates were present for the read aloud.

In a statement Tuesday evening, the state’s education commissioner, Manny Diaz Jr., said: “Florida does not require a permission slip to teach African American history or to celebrate Black History Month. Any school that does this is completely in the wrong.”

At a recent school board committee meeting that was posted online, board member Steve Gallon III expressed concern about whether the policy was being implemented fairly and wanted to know if a teacher would be required to obtain permission from parents to have a Holocaust survivor speak. “I don’t want this to be a narrative that is restricted to Black history and African American history,” Gallon said during the Feb. 7 meeting.

John Pace III, the deputy superintendent, and the district’s general counsel, Walter Harvey, responded that any guest speaker, including a Holocaust survivor, would require parental consent. Pace called the permission slips “extracurricular, parent permission forms” and said that they were not required for classroom instruction on African American history or the Holocaust.

Walter’s post on X drew more than 2,000 shares as of Tuesday afternoon and had been liked more than 3,500 times.

“It was obviously quite shocking to receive the form,” Walter said. “I hope that the school district recognizes that people aren’t in agreement with this policy and reconsider.”

Janelle Griffith

Janelle Griffith is a national reporter for NBC News focusing on issues of race and policing.

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