New Florida Bill Would Restrict How Teachers And Employers Talk About Race
New Florida Bill Would Restrict How Teachers and Employers Talk About Race
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Following a federal holiday commemorating the impact of Martin Luther King Jr., some lawmakers in Florida are pushing for legislation that could create more obstacles for public school teachers when discussing racism in history classes.
Furthermore, the bill would involve private businesses in Florida, prohibiting employers from mandating certain trainings and conversations on race and sex for their employees.
While the language of the bill emphasizes that no one should be assumed racist or sexist based on their race alone, critics are concerned that it restricts the academic freedom of teachers to discuss the history of racism in the United States and its ongoing effects, potentially perpetuating a problematic trend.
On the business front, State Senator Tina Polsky is worried that the bill would limit the autonomy of business owners to operate their own companies. "Why should the government serve as the thought police?" asked Polsky, a Democrat representing parts of Broward and Palm Beach Counties. "This is an extremely authoritarian bill."
"I believe this is simply an attempt to suppress important dialogue both in the classroom and the workplace," added Polsky.
The bill’s sponsor, State Senator Manny Diaz, stated that the legislation would require instructors to present both the positive aspects and the darker parts of American history during classroom instruction. Diaz, a Republican representing a portion of Miami-Dade County, asserted that the bill aims to prevent the imposition of one particular viewpoint on students.
Among other changes that would impact both public schools and businesses in Florida, the bill states that instructional materials in classrooms must align with the following principles of "individual freedoms:"
"No individual is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive solely because of their race or sex."
"No race is inherently superior to another race."
"No individual should face discrimination or adverse treatment solely or in part due to their race, color, national origin, religion, disability, or sex."
"Meritocracy and traits like a strong work ethic are not racist, but rather fundamental to the right to pursue happiness and be rewarded for hard work."
"An individual, based on their race or sex, should not be held responsible for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex."
"An individual should not be made to feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress solely because of their race."
The bill allows teachers to facilitate discussions on racism and sexism, but states that "classroom instruction and curriculum may not be used to indoctrinate or persuade students to adopt a particular point of view" inconsistent with the above principles.
However, some lawmakers questioned whether such incidents were actually occurring in Florida classrooms and if not, what the legislation was specifically targeting.
State Senator Shevrin Jones, a Democrat representing parts of Broward County, pointed out that there have been no instances of these assertions being taught in Florida classrooms, and suggested that this bill instead serves as "red meat" for the Republican base.
"Do we have evidence of children coming home or filing complaints with the state saying that ‘Because I’m white, my teacher told me I am superior to my Black classmates?’" Jones asked Diaz.
"I believe many of us have heard from individual parents with concerns. We need to ensure that such incidents never happen in our classrooms," Diaz responded.
During the debate on the bill, Jones expressed concerns that the legislation could distort the darker aspects of American history, such as slavery and the Jim Crow laws.
"Yes, parents should be aware of what their children are being taught. However, we must not distort history," Jones stated. "We cannot ignore the facts, the things that have happened. All this bill will do is foster ignorance about racial issues and other important topics that children should be knowledgeable about and have access to."
"As the only Black man representing the African American community here on the Education committee, this bill is a problem," he added. He is the sole Black individual serving on the Senate Education committee.
The concept known as "critical race theory" originally emerged in graduate-level law school discussions to analyze how the justice system perpetuates inequalities among different demographic groups. However, Republican officials have misused the term to criticize a wide range of activities that explore the role of racism in American society.
In June, the Florida State Board of Education passed a new rule that prohibits the teaching of critical race theory in classrooms. They argue that the theory distorts historical events and is inconsistent with the board’s approved standards. Additionally, the rule prohibits the use of materials from The New York Times’ "1619 Project," which focuses on the establishment of the United States from the perspective of Black people.
Critics argue that these efforts are an attempt to stifle and suppress honest discussions about the history of the Black experience in America. They also believe that Senate Bill 148 aligns with these suppression efforts.
During the committee meeting on the bill, time constraints limited public comments to only one minute. Committee Chair Joe Gruters, a Republican representing Sarasota County and part of Charlotte County, encouraged speakers to yield their time if their point had already been made. Gruters also serves as the chair of the Republican Party of Florida.
Most comments expressed opposition to the bill, while a few were in favor.
Senator Polsky expressed disappointment at the rushed nature of the discussion, noting that constituents, including one who had traveled for seven hours, were only given a minute to speak.
Emphasizing this point, the committee could only allocate three minutes to another bill related to race, which focused on integrating Asian American and Pacific Islander history into Florida’s required instruction alongside existing requirements for African American history and Holocaust education.
Senate Bill 490, sponsored by Senator Linda Stewart, a Democrat representing part of Orange County, was quickly introduced without questions or debate.
There was only enough time for one speaker, Mimi Chan, a martial arts teacher in Central Florida. Chan started a petition on Change.org calling for Asian American history to be included in K-12 schools in Florida, which has garnered 12,760 signatures.
The bill was a response to the increase in violence against Asian Americans over the past year, including a mass shooting that resulted in the death of eight people, six of whom were Asian women.
Chan expressed her concern for the safety of her family and herself in light of the recent rise in violence against Asian Americans. She believed that passing SB 490 and promoting inclusive history education would help combat stereotypes and improve the lives of Asian Americans in Florida, particularly children who deserve a safe learning environment.
This article is written by the Florida Phoenix, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. For any questions, contact Editor Diane Rado at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.
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