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Harris heads to Florida ready to forcefully condemn state’s new Black history standards

Posted at 11:40 AM, Jul 21, 2023

Vice President Kamala Harris will travel Friday to Jacksonville in a last-minute trip to forcefully condemn a newly approved set of standards for teaching Black history by the Florida Board of Education, directly wading into one of the cultural flashpoints that have assumed new prominence ahead of the 2024 election.

It’s the latest example of Harris acting as a rapid response voice for the administration, quickly deploying around the country in the immediate aftermath of a controversial vote or law being passed to offer forceful pushback of moves taken by state Republicans on guns, abortion and education.

The trip, added to Harris’ schedule Thursday, is meant to highlight the Biden administration’s disagreement with the controversial standards, a White House official said.

Harris will be the first Biden administration official in the state since the rules were approved and will discuss the “fight to protect fundamental freedoms, specifically, the freedom to learn and teach America’s full and true history,” the official said. On Wednesday, the Florida Board of Education approved a new set of standards for how Black history should be taught in the state’s public schools, sparking criticism from education and civil rights advocates who said students should be allowed to learn the “full truth” of American history. The curriculum was approved at the board’s meeting in Orlando.

It is the latest development in the state’s ongoing debate over African American history, including the education department’s rejection of a preliminary pilot version of an Advanced Placement African American Studies course for high school students, which it claimed lacked educational value.

The White House has spoken out forcefully against book bans and other steps to remove elements of American history from school curricula, and the issue was included in Biden’s reelection announcement video in April.

The president’s advisers view the issue as one that can galvanize Democrats in next year’s elections, and Harris’ presence in the state at the epicenter of boiling culture wars seeks to present Harris and Biden as the safeguards against extremist steps that could limit freedoms and speech.

That strategy has been bolstered by polling and research showing Americans opposed to banning books that include information on slavery and other issues.

“Choosing to remember history, not erase it; to read books, not ban them no matter how hard some people try,” Biden said in remarks on the Juneteenth Holiday last month. “That’s what great nations do. And we’re a great nation.”

Many Republican candidates — chief among them Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — have championed efforts to bar certain books from school libraries.

Harris, who has also taken a lead role in the administration’s response to restrictive abortion bans, has spoken out forcefully against the efforts. On Thursday, she warned against education rules that paper over historical realities.

“They push forward revisionist history,” Harris said Thursday at Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.’s 56th national convention. “Just yesterday in the state of Florida, they decided middle school students will be taught that enslaved people benefited from slavery,” she added. “They insult us in an attempt to gaslight us, and we will not stand for it.”

The vice president has spent the summer months traveling the country to speak out in support of freedoms she and Democrats believe are under attack by Republicans, including abortion and the right to learn. Harris has appeared in front of base Democratic voters that include Black voters, women and young people to deliver her message.

Friday’s trip to Florida marks the second time this year she’s delivered high-profile remarks in the Sunshine State meant to condemn Republican attacks on rights.

And on her visit to DeSantis’ home state, Harris will “convene parents, educators, civil rights leaders, and elected officials to address these attacks and highlight the coalitions required to protect fundamental freedoms,” the official added.

The first Black female vice president is also expected to speak in the LaVilla neighborhood, a historically Black area that will be immediately impacted by the new standards.