TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Senate on Thursday passed a controversial bill that critics said will drastically limit race education in Florida schools.
HB 7, formally called the "Individual Freedom" measure, bans educators from teaching certain subjects related to race.
Those topics include the idea that "one race, color, national origin, or sex are morally superior to members of another race, color, national origin, or sex" and that "a person, by virtue of his or her race, color, national origin, or sex is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously."
The Florida Senate passed the measure along party lines Thursday, 24 to 15, and will now send it to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who's expected to sign the contentious bill into law.
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SPECIAL COVERAGE: Education
While Critical Race Theory — the belief that racism is infused in American society, as well as in its institutions and legal systems — is not specifically mentioned in the bill, critics of the legislation feel the language of the measure still addresses it.
"This is ridiculous. Forget it being unconstitutional. It's not needed," said Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-Miami Gardens, on the Senate floor Thursday. "Children should be able to learn true history. I don't care if it's Black history. I don't care if it's Jewish history."
Another sticking point is a section which prohibits educators from promoting lessons that would make students "feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the person played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, national origin, or sex."
Opponents worry the bill is too vague, will chill race education in the state, and open a door to frivolous litigation.
Supporters, however, feel students should not be taught lessons that will make them feel ashamed of their ancestors.
"We all have a stain on our history for the actions of some," said Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland. "But I would have a real hard time if my children were to sit in a classroom and be told that they need to feel guilt and shame for what happened. Because I think my children have the ability to stand tall and proud for the behavior of their grandfather."
Stargel added she doesn't think "we should be teaching a certain race should feel that they're better or worse than another, based solely on their skin."
"The message today — and I heard it said multiple times — that we of White privilege are supposed to feel guilt and shame, I don't subscribe to that," Stargel said. "We're gonna teach honest history. But we're not gonna influence it with an opinion one way or the other."
"No one is trying to washout or erase history," said Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah Gardens.
Republicans like Diaz have touted the policy as a way to prevent the indoctrination of students and employees.
"We send our students to school to learn. To be thinkers. Not to be told what to think," Diaz said.
The Palm Beach County School Board voted last month to send a letter to Florida lawmakers, denouncing HB 7 and saying it "represents censorship."
In the letter, Superintendent Mike Burke and all seven school board members said the legislation "would compromise an educator's ability to teach honest LGBTQ history, Black history, and the historic reasons behind gender and race discrimination."
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Once DeSantis signs the measure into law, the curriculum changes will take effect on July 1.
The "Individual Freedom" measure is the second controversial piece of legislation passed by the Florida Senate in a matter of days.
On Tuesday, HB 1557/SB 1834 — formally called the "Parental Rights In Education" measure, but more commonly known as the "Don't Say Gay" bill — was approved along mostly party lines, 22 to 17.
Under the contentious bill, "classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards."
Critics feel the legislation is discriminatory and threatens the acceptance and inclusion of LGBTQ students in Florida schools.