DeSantis: Parents could sue if kids are taught ‘critical race theory’ in FL public schools

By: - December 15, 2021 11:16 am

Gov. Ron DeSantis promoted his “Stop Woke Act,” restricting classroom instruction about racism and other systemic problems, in Wildwood on Dec. 15, 2021. Source: Screenshot/DeSantis Facebook

In a campaign-like atmosphere that included throwing DeSantis hats into the audience and participants holding up red signs saying Stop W.O.K.E., Gov. Ron DeSantis railed Wednesday against “critical race theory” and promoted upcoming legislation to allow parents to sue if their kids are taught CRT in Florida public schools.

Republican officials have used the misnomer of “critical race theory” to criticize a wide variety of activities examining the role of racism in American society, and in June, the Florida State Board of Education approved a new rule that prohibits critical race theory in classrooms, claiming that the theory “distorts historical events” and is “inconsistent” with the state board’s approved standards.

Six months later, DeSantis continued with that theme and added more during a press conference in Wildwood, in Central Florida. In the audience were several state lawmakers and Moms For Liberty, a vocal group of mothers who have recently dominated public comments at local school board meetings.

“What we’ve seen recently is, you can legislate things, like the Parents’ Bill of Rights, and sometimes the school districts don’t always follow it,” DeSantis said. “We are going to be including in this legislation, giving parents private right of action to be able to enforce the prohibition on CRT and they get to recover attorney’s fees when they prevail.”

He said that the legislation would be called the “Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act” or the “Stop WOKE Act,” a play on the term “woke,” which has become a conservative buzzword to refer to progressive and leftist political actions.

According to a Vox breakdown of the history of ‘woke,’ the term originally came from Black activists referring to a need for Black Americans to remain culturally and politically conscious. The definition has been broadened over the years as the term ‘woke’ entered the mainstream.

“I think what you see now with the rise of this woke ideology is an attempt to really delegitimize our history and to delegitimize our institutions,” DeSantis said Wednesday.

“And I view the wokeness as a form of cultural Marxism,” he said. “They really want to tear at the fabric of our society and our culture and things that, really, we’ve taken for granted — like the ability of parents to direct the upbringing of their kid.”

He continued:

“When you see these things around the country, where they take down Thomas Jefferson’s statue in New York city, when they take down Abraham Lincoln in Massachusetts, where they take George Washington’s name of schools in California — that is an attempt to erase history. They want to delegitimize the founding of the country, with it’s institutions, and they really want to replace it with a very militant form of Leftism that would absolutely destroy this country if that ever took hold.”

Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran also spoke at the press conference, saying:  “We’re having to fight against having our children indoctrinated on lies. So to put a Stop WOKE Act into the legislation, banning it (CRT) permanently so that it is no longer in corporate boardrooms and no longer in classrooms, it’s going to be transformational.”

The proposed legislation also is designed to protect employees in some way, but it’s not yet clear how.

In a written statement following the Wednesday press conference, DeSantis said that “we must protect Florida workers against the hostile work environment that is created when large corporations force their employees to endure CRT-inspired ‘training’ and indoctrination.”

Four Republican lawmakers participated at the press conference:  Sen. Dennis Baxley (representing Sumter County, part of Lake County, and Marion County), Rep. Blaise Ingoglia (representing part of Hernando County), Rep. Keith Truenow (representing parts of Lake and Orange counties) and Rep. Randy Fine (representing part of Brevard County).

Also at the campaign-like press conference was Matthew Spalding, a professor from Hillsdale College in Michigan. Hillsdale has been involved in Florida’s civics education for some time, and Commissioner Corcoran has spoken at the private conservative college.

“I think we’re on the cusp of a moment where the idea of education as an issue is realigning. It’s no longer merely a question of budget or policy, but it’s about returning it to it’s rightful place in the formation of good citizens,” Spalding said. “This is the responsibility of states, not the federal government. It’s the responsibility of elected school boards, not educational experts. Of classroom teachers, not bureaucrats.

He continued: “And most important, parents, who have the fundamental right to teach their children in what the American founders referred to, the family, they called it ‘the seminary of the Republic.'”

Meanwhile, teachers across Florida say that CRT is not taught in K-12 classrooms. At the time that the Department of Education’s rule banning CRT was adopted, many critics had concerns that there would be threats to academic freedom or even suppress educators’ freedom of speech.

Many of those concerns continue with the Wednesday announcement of the proposed legislation.

State Sen. Randolph Bracy, a Democrat who represents part of Orange County, called the proposed legislation “a horrible idea.”

“None of Central Florida’s school districts even teach CRT. So, why propose it?” Bracy said in a written statement. “Because the Governor wants to issue a chilling effect on what educators are able to discuss while providing cover for those who are uncomfortable learning the truth about the history of race relations in the United States.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown

Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University. She has served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine and Rowland Publishing. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat.