Skip to main content

Miami Schools Under Fire Over Black History Permission Slip Flap

School officials say they were only complying with a statewide education rule.

Students chant during a protest of Gov. Ron DeSantis' education agenda.,Ivy Ceballo/Tampa Bay Times

TALLAHASSEE, Florida — School officials in Miami-Dade County appear to be rethinking a controversial policy requiring students to get parental approval before hearing guest speakers on subjects like African American history and the Holocaust after the district received widespread backlash.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools for months has compelled classrooms to send out parental permission slips ahead of any guests coming to campus to address students in response to a recent Florida parental rights law. But in recent weeks, this policy has faced intense scrutiny from parents — and even the state education commissioner — as it was applied to guests visiting campuses to share their experiences surrounding Black history and the Holocaust.

The response from Miami-Dade shows how policies pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis are playing out across the state as school officials wade through broad regulations aiming to give parents more power in how their children are educated. Other school districts have moved to require permission slips for some student activities and even nicknames, but not to the extent seen in Miami.

“It will be an ongoing process to make sure we seek the clarity required to make sure we only use parent permission slips for when they’re needed, regardless of African American history, [the] Holocaust, [or] Hispanic heritage,” Superintendent Jose Dotres said Tuesday during a school board meeting. “Whatever it is, we need to strike the correct balance in clarity period on the parent permission slip.”

Miami’s policy, despite being in place since November, gained attention after parents at Coral Way K-8 were asked to grant permission for their children to participate in a “read aloud” of a book about African Americans. And in another example, students at Palmetto Middle School needed signed parental approval to hear from a Holocaust survivor.

At least one Miami-Dade school board member, Steve Gallon III, has been skeptical of how the district is carrying out the permission slip policy, fearing that it could ultimately cause students to miss out on critical education opportunities for something as simple as forgetting to ask for their parent’s signature. Gallon during Tuesday’s meeting also took offense to how the permission slips have led some people to believe schools are not regularly teaching lessons about Black history and the Holocaust, both of which are required to be covered under state law.

“There is no permission slip to teach Black history,” Gallon said. “This notion and this narrative that we have to somewhat get permission in some form or fashion to provide instruction to our students — all students — regarding African American history is something that is inconsistent with the law.”

School officials say the permission slips are the district’s way of complying with a statewide education rule tied to a high-profile parental rights law. The rule, approved last year by the state Board of Education, requires schools to “fully inform” parents about what’s happening during field trips, extracurricular activities and supplemental programs.

“Guest speakers, be they subject area experts or anything of that nature on any of the topics, would require the permission form,” Lourdes Diaz, chief academic officer for the school district, explained to the board Tuesday.

If you like this article, please sign up for Snapshot, Portside's daily summary.

(One summary e-mail a day, you can change anytime, and Portside is always free.)

That position, though, hasn’t stopped criticism from pouring in, including from the state’s top education official, Manny Diaz Jr., who labeled the situation a “hoax.”

Taking things further, state Board of Education Chair Ben Gibson sent a letter to Coral Way K-8, asking school leaders to update their policy. Gibson asserted that the school’s implementation of the state rule is “wrong” and that the local policy should ensure that the campus is “not unnecessarily asking parents to grant permission where the student is simply engaged in regular on-campus learning” of subjects required by state law.

“I am not aware of any school in the state that has interpreted the rule in this way,” Gibson wrote. “This should be obvious on its face, and therefore, those providing guidance to you and your school are either grossly misinterpreting the rule or simply engaged in nothing more than apolitical ploy.”

Miami school officials acknowledged that the description of the event at Coral Way “may have caused confusion” and said the district is “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,” a spokesperson for the district wrote in a statement.

Democrats, meanwhile, claim the Miami fallout is the latest symptom of Florida’s “war on woke” being led by DeSantis as Republicans push to restrict lessons about race, gender, and sexuality.

House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, a Tampa Democrat said the permission slip situation is “ludicrous at best and nefarious at worst.”

“This is yet another case of unintended consequences leading to absurd results,” Driskell posted on social media Wednesday. “Florida deserves leaders who can think past the next soundbite so that students don’t miss out on important opportunities.”

Andrew Atterbury covers education for POLITICO’s Florida bureau.