The district is developing curriculum that will integrate black history into every course all year. A state law passed in 2002 requires districts to educate students on more topics.


For decades, most African American history lessons were given in high school classrooms. They often focused on post-Jamestown slavery, the Harlem Renaissance and the civil rights movement.


During Black History Month, held each February, students of all ages often learned about the accomplishments of a handful of black leaders and visionaries.


Though important, African American history has not been part of daily lesson plans aimed at every K-12 child.


Stetson University professor Patrick Coggins says that this limited history does not allow students of all ages to grow and learn about the important contributions African Americans have made, and are making, in America.


A complete history will give all children fulfilling snapshots of black culture. It will help children understand the struggles and successes that made them who they are.


Coggins, who spoke to the School Board on Thursday, is serving as a consultant to help the Marion County School District earn an "exemplary status" designation in African American studies.


The mission to seek the status began during the 2018-19 school year. That was when Superintendent of Schools Heidi Maier and many community members agreed to begin working toward the goal.


So far, these Florida school districts have gained exemplary status: Broward, Duval, Gadsden, Hillsborough, Leon, Miami-Dade, Palm Peach, Pinellas, St. Lucie and Volusia.


The news comes one year after the local district opened its Black History Museum and Archives of Marion County at the Howard Academy Community Center.


Coggins thanked the board and Maier on Thursday for sticking with the plan to reach exemplary status.


"It really takes a team to make this happen," Coggins said. "I think the impression we will get is that this will be just (taught as part of) history because it is social studies but it is beyond that."


He continued, stating that the addition of African American studies it is not a moral issue, it is the law.


"Because it’s the law … we shouldn’t have to defend doing it," he noted. "You will get pushback from the community because the community (may) not understand that this is part of required instruction."


Maier hopes that by December the district will become the 11th in Florida to receive that status.


A 2002 Florida law states that districts must create a social studies curriculum that highlights how America was founded, including the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.


The curriculum is also required to include the history of the Holocaust, Hispanic contributions, women in the United States and African American history.


The district’s African American curriculum, for example, will teach students about black painters, mathematicians and scientists, all in context with the subject they are taking.


They will also learn about how white and black people worked together for equal rights. They will still learn about the discrimination, slavery and the civil rights movement.


The African American history will cover seven specific areas: Ancient Africa, pre-Columbus; African Exploration of the World, pre-Columbus; Invasion and Weakening of Africa, European Colonialism; Slavery Post-Columbus in Americas; The Soul of African-Descent Peoples; Neo-Slavery Abolition, Civil Rights and Constitutional Rights; and Contributions to the World and USA.


Coggins is impressed that Marion County is well on its way to getting its status. So far, about 66 district staff members and administrators, as well as 120 principals and assistant principals have been trained.


"I usually have to fight districts for them to release principals to get the training," Coggins noted. "I didn’t have to do it here. It has been easy working with your district."


The district must show that the African American curriculum is going to be taught throughout the 180-day school year. Coggins said the district must put together an advisory group to show that parents and community understands the mission.


"We are moving in the right direction," he said, adding the district must plan to start by developing one African American unit at each K-12 grade level.


School Board member Nancy Stacy supports the new curriculum plan. Stacy said that up until the early 1990s that textbooks only included the topics of slavery and civil rights.


Stacy believes that black heroes were intentionally left out of history books. The School District adopted its own history books that included more African American history than other districts, Maier said.


Stacy said that providing more, and positive, black history will give children a better view of their past.


"This will change the image for an entire group of children, their ancestors and where they came from, to know they played a large role in America today," Stacy said.


Whitfield Jenkins, a former NAACP member and civil rights activist, said the new curriculum is vital to students. Jenkins shared that he was one of two black teachers to first teach in a white school.


"I want to thank you very much for the decision you are making and you will look back years from now and have the same feeling and glory in your spirit that I have today," Jenkins said.


School Board Chairman Eric Cummings said that he too believes that "there has been some intentional erasing of history" over time.


"But I am thankful that our state government recognized that as well, Cummings said. "The law said in 1994 and 2002 that this should be added back to it."


Joe Callahan can be reached at 867-4113 or at joe.callahan@starbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoeOcalaNews.