On December 15th, 2021, Floridian Governor Ron DeSantis announced the Stop W.O.K.E. Act, a new legislative proposal that allows parents to sue school districts if they include Critical Race Theory (C.R.T.) as part of their school curriculums. The bill will be debated in Florida’s Senate and House throughout the month of February 2022.
What is the “Stop WOKE Act”?
The Stop W.O.K.E Act stands for “Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees.” The proposed bill has reignited the debate around parental rights and the government’s ability to shape the ideology of future voters to its liking.
This bill is a “private right of action” legislation – that is, it does not directly ban anything or dictate what a body (in this case, Florida school districts) can or cannot teach. Instead, it enshrines the parents’ rights to question non-academic or controversial content included in the curriculum.
In particular, DeSantis’ proposal will target content related to “Critical Race Theory,”: an academic trend that seeks to examine race relations, conflict, and racism as “systemically ingrained” and “pervasive” across American history and institutions.
Under this bill, parents will now have:
The right to privately sue school districts if they push discussions that could create “discomfort, guilt, or anguish” for students or foster hate and resentment between them.
The power to request documents or questionnaires to discover whether this content is being taught.
If they win the case, the possibility to collect attorney’s fees from the school district.
In addition, the Stop WOKE Act will also offer similar protections in cases where critical race theory is included as part of corporate “diversity training” modules. In this way, they seek to protect workers and employees from being harassed or targeted by racial stereotypes.
Critical Race Theory and the Current Curriculum
Critical Race Theory has long been debated in universities, especially in Anthropology and Sociology departments. However, as it seeks to examine current legislation and events through a highly subjective lens, it is not usually included in high school curriculums.
It should be noted that, over the past five years, Florida has publicly adopted new state-wade standards for its educational curriculums. Governor DeSantis has pushed for significant changes in English Language and the Arts and increased the scope of Mathematics, Character Education, and Technology studies.
According to Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran, lesson plans should “match Florida’s new world-class education standards.” A major part of these standards includes protecting students from those “who are attempting to manipulate classroom content to impose their values.”
Two Sides of a Heated Debate
DeSantis’ detractors have been quick to raise the alarm upon what they see as an attempt at censorship. For some Florida Democrats (such as Sen. (D) Shervin Jones, who called the initiative “wild”), the Stop WOKE Act would constitute a “gag law.” Making it easier for parents to sue the school district could potentially dampen any mention of race or racism at all.
On the other side of the political arena, the Act will protect freedom, especially for disenfranchised concerned parents. As long as any knowledge imparted in the classroom is fact-based and historically accurate, it will not fall within the Act’s scope. By keeping to the verifiable, students and parents would be left free to draw their conclusions.
This is a message that resonates deeply with many Florida parents. Increasingly, the inclusion of controversial topics in high school education can create uncomfortable discussions in the household. High school students are still minors, and it stands to reason that their parents will want to take an active role in shaping their moral development and sense of citizenship.
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