Florida Senate panel endorses Ron DeSantis’ push for new limits on how race is discussed
'We shouldn’t be teaching students ... that someone is automatically racist or sexist,' bill sponsor says
TALLAHASSEE – Gov. Ron DeSantis’ push for new limits on how race is discussed in Florida classrooms and workplaces was advanced Tuesday by a Senate committee, despite criticism that it will spawn censorship, lawsuits and more problems for teachers.
The legislation (SB 148) by Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Miami, is said by its sponsor to protect “individual freedoms” and prevent discrimination in schools and the workplace.
The measure would bar teaching in grades K-12 that could make individuals feel responsible for historic wrongs because of their race, color, sex or national origin. At work, employment practices or training programs that make an individual feel guilty on similar grounds could be considered an unlawful employment practice – and subject a company to a lawsuit.
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“We shouldn’t be teaching students, for example in a diverse classroom, that someone is automatically racist or sexist or anti-immigrant by the sheer nature of their background,” Diaz told the Senate Education Committee.
He added, “We cannot hit the students with that because you’re from this group, you’re automatically sexist or racist. The discussion has to be had for students to critically think and understand what was wrong ... and how we moved past it or haven’t moved past it.”
The legislation echoes a call by DeSantis, who last month outlined his “Stop WOKE Act,” which he said was to block “wrongs to our kids and employees.” DeSantis last year got the state Board of Education to prohibit the teaching of critical race theory in schools – where it is not currently taught – by saying it is “indoctrinating kids with faddish ideologies.”
What is critical race theory?
Critical race theory examines the role race has played in shaping American history and modern society. While how widely it influences teaching is debatable, critical race theory has enflamed conservative media and DeSantis has seized on it as an element to stamp out in Florida.
Diaz’s legislation, however, stops short of meeting DeSantis’ demand that students be allowed to sue school boards if critical race theory is taught.
Lawmaker says race bill poses threat to business
Still, Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, said that Diaz’s proposal does pose such a threat to Florida businesses. She said the legislation potentially opens the door to lawsuits against employers, a stand the governor has sought in his “WOKE” proposal to deter companies from policies that may cross the line he’s drawing on race.
Polsky cited an example of a male employee dismissed from a company or passed over for a promotion who could make the claim that employment diversity efforts worked against him.
“How is a judge supposed to determine if a person is made to feel guilty by proper diversity training, sexual harassment training or any kind of policy that a company has in place to prevent discrimination?” Polsky said.
Diaz dismissed that concern.
“The training can be received, just as long as that training doesn’t automatically intimate that that person is guilty of that (wrongdoing) because they’re a member of that group,” Diaz said.
But Sen. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach, derided the legislation for its “vagueness.”
“If a student feels they’ve been indoctrinated and a teacher disagrees, who decides who’s correct?” Berman asked.
Diaz said such classroom complaints could make their way to the state Board of Education and its Education Practices Commission.
Battle lines were clear over Diaz’s bill, which cleared the Education Committee on a party-line vote.
Testifying against the measure were such organizations as the NAACP of Florida, the Florida PTA, Equality Florida and the American Civil Liberties Union. Among those favoring the legislation were the Florida Citizens Alliance and the Florida Family Policy Council.
John Kennedy is a reporter in the USA TODAY Network’s Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @JKennedyReport