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Local professor speaks out after school district cancels civil rights lecture over CRT concerns

Michael Butler says he’d been preparing the presentation since November. It was canceled three days before it was set to be heard by Osceola County teachers.

FLORIDA, USA — A bill to block public schools and private businesses from making people feel "discomfort" when they are taught about race is making its way through the Florida Legislature. So far, the House Judiciary Committee and State Education Committee have given it the green light.

In June, critical race theory or CRT was banned by the Florida Board of Education.

Now, a local college professor is speaking only to First Coast News about what he says happened to him, it's a story that's received national attention.

"This was literally a decision to silence the teaching of historical fact. And that's a shame," Flagler College history professor Michael Butler says.

A Florida school district canceled Butler's civil rights history seminar for teachers, citing in part concerns over critical race theory.

However, in an exclusive local interview with First Coast News, Butler says the lecture had nothing to do with CRT.

Just days before it was set to be heard, the history lecture for kindergarten through 8th grade teachers in Osceola County was suddenly canceled.

“I had all the reactions, I was disappointed. Shocked, but not surprised," Butler described. "A little angry, because the cancellation reinforced to me the importance of this topic. This is not a subject that is meant to make people feel guilty or to make students hate each other. This is a topic that informs who we are as American citizens.”

Butler was asked by the National Council for History Education to lead the civil rights history seminar in October. He says he’d been preparing the three-part presentation since November. The seminar called “The Long Civil Rights Movement," demonstrates that the civil rights movement preceded and post-dated Martin Luther King Jr. by decades.

The School District of Osceola County sent First Coast News a statement, which says in part:

“The district had concerns about the number of educators who were going to be unable to participate due to covid concerns.  In addition, the district needed time to review the training materials in light of the current conversations across our state and in our community about critical race theory.”

More than a week since the seminar has been canceled, Butler says the district still hasn’t reached out to him at all about the material he planned to cover.

“And they probably would have been disappointed, because it is all just dates and pictures. And historical fact. There is no mention of critical race theory," Butler explained.

He also doesn't know if or when the seminar will be rescheduled.

Butler is concerned that this will be the first of many issues like this.

"It's very much a fear driven phenomenon that has real world ramifications," He said. “If one school district can censor the teaching of one historical topic in their county, than the teaching of any historical topic in any county can be censored. And, that's not fair to our educators, but more importantly, that's not fair to our students.“

His hope is that this situation starts a real dialogue.

“What does it mean to ban ideas? What impact does legislation have on the teaching of historical topics in our schools?“ he posed.

The following is the full statement from the School District of Osceola County:

"The district had concerns about the number of educators who were going to be unable to participate due to COVID concerns.  In addition, the district needed time to review the training materials in light of the current conversations across our state and in our community about critical race theory. We remain committed to fully supporting the work of our educators to provide meaningful learning experiences about the facts and realities of the history of our country and our world using a guaranteed and viable curriculum."

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