DeSantis signs ‘Intellectual Freedom,’ Stop WOKE law; critics say it’s racist and unconstitutional

By: - April 22, 2022 5:23 pm

Schoolchildren at a public charter school in South Florida attend a bill signing, HB 7, with Gov. Ron DeSantis. CRT references Critical Race Theory. April 22, 2022.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed HB 7 into law on Friday, an “Intellectual Freedom” measure also referred to as the “Stop WOKE” act. Among critics, it caused immediate condemnation across Florida and states elsewhere.

“We believe in education, not indoctrination,” said DeSantis, who was surrounded by schoolchildren at a public charter school in South Florida.

Students, some very young, held signs crossing out “CRT,” raising questions about whether little kids even knew what the term meant. (It’s called Critical Race Theory.)

Gov. Ron DeSantis signing HB 7 bill into law April 22, 2022. Credit: Florida Channel.

In DeSantis’ view, the protects both students and parents and ensures education is consistent with Florida standards — and that means critical race theory will not be used in classrooms in Florida’s public schools.

Experts in critical race theory say it’s about acknowledging how racial disparities are embedded in U.S history and society. But GOP lawmakers have succeeded in pushing it to the top of state legislative agendas.

The culture-war bill HB 7, described as “Individual Freedom,” restricts conversations about race and gender in schools and workplaces. State Sen. Manny Diaz Jr. was a Senate co-sponsor of the bill and voted for it. (He’s now up for the Florida Education Commissioner job.)

For example, the bill considers it discrimination to subject any student or employee to training or instruction or to compel a student or employee to believe concepts such as that “members of one race, color, national origin, or sex are morally superior to members of another race, color, national origin, or sex.”

Or: “An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color sex, or national origin, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

Or: “An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color,  sex, or national origin, bears responsibility for, or should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of, actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin.”

It was one of the governor’s signature bills pushed through the 2022 legislative session.

Critics immediately condemned the new law, which takes effect July 1.

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried, an independently-elected member of the Florida Cabinet, released the following statement:

“This bill is a vile attempt to erase our country’s history, censor businesses and schools, and whitewash history. It’s unconstitutional and racist. This is just more state-sanctioned hatred and censorship coming from Gov. DeSantis and Republicans in the Legislature.”

The Florida Education Association wrote:

“Instead of solving real problems, HB 7 will bring politics into the classroom and stoke division in local school districts. The new law will compromise educators’ ability to teach accurate, honest history from kindergarten through college.”

HB 7 is likely to impose a financial cost on PreK-12 public schools,  schools, and universities, the FEA wrote, and increase the critical educator shortage, “with more potential teachers choosing to avoid the profession, current teachers leaving, and higher education faculty opting to reject positions on Florida campuses because of restrictive, punitive legislation.”

In Washington, D.C., the Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights organization for LGBTQ people, “condemned Gov. Ron DeSantis for signing the “Stop WOKE” act (HB 7), legislation limiting protected speech in workplaces and classrooms by censoring honest dialogue about systemic racism, gender, and race discrimination.”

“The legislation also changes Florida’s employment discrimination statutes to give employees the ability to file discrimination claims against an employer engaging in trainings or discussions about Black history, LGBTQ+ issues, and other concepts of injustice and discrimination,” the organization said.

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Diane Rado
Diane Rado

Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.

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