A Florida Senate committee advanced a bill on Tuesday that would prohibit public schools and private businesses from making white people feel “discomfort” when they are taught or trained about discrimination in the country’s past.
The bill, which echoes Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’s call, has been met with criticism, with critics claiming it will lead to censorship, lawsuits, and more problems for teachers. The legislation (SB 148) proposed by Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Miami, is intended to protect “individual freedoms,” according to its sponsor.
The bill would prohibit teaching in grades K-12 that could make students feel responsible for historical wrongs based on their race, color, gender, or national origin. At work, employment practices or training programs that make an employee feel guilty on similar grounds may be considered unlawful employment practices – and subject a company to a lawsuit.
Democrats argued that the bill is unnecessary, would result in frivolous lawsuits, and would amount to school censorship. They asked for real-life examples of teachers or businesses telling students or employees that they are racist because of their race, but they were unsuccessful.
“This bill is not for Blacks, nor is it for any other race.” This was done to make white people feel better about what happened years ago,” said state Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Black state senator. “At no point did anyone say white people should be held responsible for what happened, but what I would ask my white counterparts is, are you an enabler of what happened or are you going to say we must talk about history?”
The legislation echoes a call made by DeSantis last month, when he outlined his “Stop WOKE Act,” which he said was intended to prevent “wrongs to our children and employees.”
“An individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, does not bear responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex,” according to the new bill. An individual should not be made to feel uncomfortable, guilty, anguished, or any other type of psychological distress because of his or her race.”
“We shouldn’t be teaching students, for example, in a diverse classroom, that someone is automatically racist, sexist, or anti-immigrant based on their background,” Diaz told the Senate Education Committee. DeSantis persuaded the state Board of Education last year to prohibit the teaching of critical race theory in schools – where it is currently not taught – on the grounds that it is “indoctrinating kids with faddish ideologies.”
Critical race theory is a theoretical framework that investigates whether and how systems and policies perpetuate racism.
While it is debatable how widely it influences education, critical race theory has enraged conservative media, and DeSantis has seized on it as an element to eradicate in Florida.
Diaz’s bill, on the other hand, falls short of DeSantis’ demand that students be allowed to sue school boards if critical race theory is taught.
Diaz’s proposal, according to Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, is a threat to Florida businesses. She said the legislation could lead to lawsuits against employers, which is a stance the governor has sought in his “WOKE” proposal to deter companies from enacting policies that cross the line he’s drawn on race.
Polsky used the example of a male employee who was fired from a company or passed over for a promotion and could claim that employment diversity efforts were working against him.
Senator Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach, however, slammed the legislation for its “vagueness.”
Such classroom complaints, according to Diaz, could end up before the state Board of Education and its Education Practices Commission.
Diaz’s bill was approved on a party-line vote by the Education Committee. 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.