Florida lawmakers on Thursday passed a bill that would limit how educators discuss certain racial issues in classrooms.
The bill, known as HB 7/Individual Freedom, was passed by the Senate along party lines Thursday and now goes to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was expected to sign it into law.
DeSantis and Republican lawmakers in the state have pushed for legislation to prevent Critical Race Theory instruction in schools, with the governor proposing a "Stop W.O.K.E. Act" last year to take aim against CRT in schools. The acronym stands for "Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees."
Proponents said the bill simply states that teachers and businesses can't force students and employees to feel they are to blame for racial injustices in America's past.
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Opponents said the legislation was designed to create racial division and would have a chilling effect on the discussion of injustices past and present.
The bill reads in part, "A person should not be instructed that he or she must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress for actions, in which he or she played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex."
Critical race theory is a way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism. It was developed during the 1970s and 1980s in response to what scholars viewed as a lack of racial progress following the civil rights legislation of the 1960s. It centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions and that they function to maintain the dominance of white people in society.
The bill had been amended to require the expansion of the teaching of Black history, including teaching students about the ramifications of prejudice, racism and stereotyping.
Democratic lawmakers said the bill was unnecessary, claiming CRT isn't taught in Florida schools.
"We don’t have CRT in our classrooms, but really what it is doing is silencing students, surveillancing teachers and creating an environment where any conversation on race and culture seems off the table," State Rep. Anna Eskamani said.
Hialeah Republican Sen. Manny Diaz countered that on the Senate floor Wednesday, saying the COVID-19 pandemic has given parents time to pay more attention to their kids’ education.
"Having those parents' concerns brought forward has made us pay more attention to what’s going on in our school, what’s going on with our curriculum, what’s going on with the conversations at school board meetings," Diaz said.