After fiery debate, ‘Individual Freedom’ bill banning ‘woke’ lessons in schools, businesses heads to House floor

diaz Avila edit
Democrats uniformly opposed the measure.

A Republican effort to quash “woke” indoctrination in classroom and corporate settings cleared its final Florida House obstacle Tuesday night.

The proposal again drew a deluge of criticism from the public and Democrats, who uniformly voted against it in the House Education and Employment Committee. But despite their objection, there remained more than enough GOP votes to take the legislation (HB 7) across the finish line.

Its sponsor, Rep. Bryan Ávila of Miami Springs, acknowledged the bill “brings out a lot of passion” but insisted its aim was not to discriminate.

“I know some (House) members and some of those in public testimony mentioned that it covers up or washes away history. That is not the case, far from it,” he said. “This is … to make sure our children and residents are earning and learning in a positive environment.”

Ávila’s measure, dubbed an “Individual Freedom” bill, is among the most controversial proposals of the 2022 Legislative Session. It seeks to ban required discussions and lessons in classrooms and workplaces of subjects Republicans contend are meant to indoctrinate cultural guilt in students and employees.

The enforcers of those rules, if the bill becomes law, would be parents and employees. Ávila said parents could first approach teachers to resolve concerns. If unaddressed, those issues could then go up the chain to administrative officials and, ultimately, the Department of Education and the courts. Employees would be able to seek similar resolutions.

Asked to specify which school districts in Florida have taught material objectionable enough to merit such action, Ávila pointed to several books on White supremacy that have since been removed from a Broward County Public Schools website and Palm Beach County, whose School Board in May narrowly voted to remove a “White advantage” line in its equity statement.

In the professional workspace, he said, it would outlaw training programs like one at American Express teaching employees that capitalism is fundamentally racist, another by Coca-Cola asking staff to be “less White,” and another by CVS forcing hourly workers to “understand their privilege,” among other examples.

The bill wouldn’t ban teaching of history, provided those history lessons are part of an approved curriculum and did not include a teacher injecting his or her subjective perspectives into the classroom discussion, Ávila said.

“Nothing in this bill bans the teaching of historical facts about slavery, sexism, racial oppression, racial segregation and racial discrimination,” he said. “We would and should be outraged if those important lessons were not taking place in our classrooms.”

HB 7 and its Senate analogue by Sen. Manny Diaz Jr. (SB 148), which has one more committee to pass through before heading to the floor, are interpretations of anti-woke education and business proposals Gov. Ron DeSantis pitched last fall targeting critical race theory.

According to its proponents, HB 7 expands objective civil rights protections by keeping them from being distorted by subjective movements. They insist it will have no effect on approved classroom curricula that center on discrimination, including slavery, the Civil War, the Holocaust and Japanese internment during World War II, among other subjects.

Democrats have also suggested it would be a bonanza for litigation, an assertion Ávila hasn’t disputed.

But opponents suggest the bill’s true goal is to stifle potentially difficult but ultimately necessary classroom and workspace conversation of race, gender identity and privilege just so that groups who have enjoyed systemic privilege, namely White men, don’t have to feel uncomfortable.

In prior committees, the bill drew sharp rebukes from Democrats who characterized it as a hypocritical infringement on speech, expression and the proper, comprehensive teaching of history.

That criticism continued Tuesday.

“I’m disgusted. I’m disappointed I have to walk these halls with you,” Pompano Beach Democratic Rep. Patricia Williams said. “Why should I not want my children to hear about the history and the struggle that my ancestors went through?”

Kristen Arrington, a Democratic Representative from Kissimmee, noted the bill conflicts with past GOP legislation like HB 233, which passed last year and protects “viewpoint diversity” at state colleges and universities.

“I don’t understand how you can make a person feel guilt or anguish,” she said. “These history lessons we’re looking at censoring actually help our students to experience empathy and understanding, which are very different from guilt. Guilt is usually experienced when someone does something themselves that they feel is wrong, not another person’s actions.”

Nearly all attendees from the public opposed the bill.

Democratic House candidate Kevin Cho Tipton, a critical care nurse practitioner and captain in the Air National Guard, stressed that individual perspectives are vital to teaching history.

Civics teacher Myndee Washington argued history should evoke emotions, not all of them positive.

“History should make you angry. History should make you react,” she said. “Our founding fathers didn’t say to form a perfect union but to form a more perfect union, and if we step back and silence voices, we cannot continue to make our union more perfect.”

The few residents who spoke in favor of the bill said it would safeguard students from harmful ideas and people.

Aaron DiPietro of the Florida Family Policy Council said factual history lessons are being overlooked in favor of teaching political ideology.

“These ideologies teach that our group identity is what determines our destiny,” he said. “This is not history, (and) we are not carbon copies of our group stereotype.”

Barney Bishop III, the founder and chair of Citizens for Responsible Spending, said the “indoctrination that’s being done at schools” is among the reasons why many parents are removing their students from public schools and placing them in charter schools.

“Drag queens in elementary schools are not appropriate,” he said to a chorus of groans.

Orlando Democratic Rep. Travaris McCurdy called HB 7 the one of many in a series of measures meant to suppress minority voices, including bills banning certain protests, barring transgender athletes from playing school sports and another so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill advancing through the Legislature.

“This is red meat,” he said. “As a Black man in this process, who happens to be elected to a body that frankly makes me feel uncomfortable sometimes, it’s an attempt to put the quote-unquote woke community back to sleep,” he said. “Privilege does exist. Racism does exist, (and) you’ve got to stop doing the Governor’s bidding, y’all. He can run his own campaign, but we as a body shouldn’t be doing his work.”

It sounds like people are debating different bills, said Brevard County Republican Rep. Randy Fine, who in 2020 successfully sponsored a bill requiring the Department of Education to give schools curriculum standards for teaching lessons about the Holocaust.

Ávila’s bill, he said, explicitly says teachers and companies can’t teach students or employees, or compel them to believe through required lessons or training, that:

— An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex or national origin, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.

— An individual’s moral character or status as either privileged or oppressed is necessarily determined by his or her race, color, sex or national origin.

— Members of one race, color, sex or national origin cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race, color, sex or national origin.

— An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex or national origin, bears responsibility for, or should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of, actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex or national origin.

— An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex or national origin, should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment to achieve diversity, equity or inclusion.

— An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race, color, sex or national origin.

— Such virtues as merit, excellence, hard work, fairness, neutrality, objectivity and racial colorblindness are racist or sexist, or were created by members of a particular race, color, sex or national origin to oppress members of another race, color, sex or national origin.

Fine said he has challenged people opposing the bill to name one or more of the those things they would be OK with seeing taught in schools or at work. He said he’s yet to get an answer.

“When you emphasize ideology, you crowd out history,” he said. “My son goes to social studies for 45 minutes every day, and I want him to learn about … our history. He doesn’t have to feel bad about it. He didn’t cause it. He had nothing to do with it. But he should know about it.”

HB 7 now heads to the House floor for further amendment and a final vote.

___

Scott Powers of Florida Politics contributed to this report.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


21 comments

  • Ron Ogden

    February 9, 2022 at 7:07 am

    Barney Bishop III, the founder and chair of Citizens for Responsible Spending, said the “indoctrination that’s being done at schools” is among the reasons why many parents are removing their students from public schools and placing them in charter schools.

    “Drag queens in elementary schools are not appropriate,” he said to a chorus of groans.

    Bishop has a way with words. His key point is correct.

  • RazzleDazzle

    February 9, 2022 at 9:04 am

    Kurt Browning removed a child from attending a high school because her parent was objecting too much to the radical sexualized agenda being pumped in the classrooms and pasted on the walls.

    Kurt Browning is a microcosm example of what is wrong with this country.

    Bring on this bill. Bring on the litigation. Public school fails in so many ways, perhaps investing more time in accurate curriculum and less time on woke feelings would behoove society as a whole?

    • Teacher/Parent/Activist

      February 9, 2022 at 11:28 am

      Kurt Browning reassigned a student because the parent was threatening teachers, causing them to seek restraining orders and/or quit their jobs. I’m assuming this is you, Becky. Tell the truth!

      • KrazzleJazzle

        February 9, 2022 at 11:36 am

        Hi! I’m not Becky. Just a concerned citizen over a propaganda filled world where apparently tax payer funded representatives like to play pretend parents don’t have any rights. It needs to end. No one is happy about it, least of all parents.

        I don’t know Becky. I read an article. She seems like she was standing up for goodness and God. Pretty A-OK in my book!

        • Teacher/Parent/Activist

          February 9, 2022 at 12:28 pm

          No. She was terrorizing teachers and threatening anyone who disagreed with her with jail because her “husband is a deputy”. She is a menace. It will be interesting to see how long it will be before her child has to be moved to another school, because she thinks she can threaten and harass, to get her way.

          • Oopsie

            February 10, 2022 at 1:13 pm

            “terrorizing” & “threatening” LOLOL
            Want to work in publicly funded position? Deal with the consequences. Children are their parents domain. Not yours.

    • terry jacks

      February 10, 2022 at 12:14 pm

      Name calling is so childish of you. Public schools need to know who is their boss….the parents. Our youth are not a market place for ideologies to choose members. Stop making teams for either side and allow parents the chance to raise their kids the way they see fit. Pretty simple.

  • Joe

    February 9, 2022 at 10:10 am

    How utterly absurd. The United States is facing collapsing bridges, 1 million dead from a pandemic, the worst healthcare system in the industrialized world, and triple inflation.

    I cannot think of anything more ridiculous than DeSantis’s culture wars. We have real problems. Let’s get behind politicians who recognize reality instead of “brainwash unintelligent people who watch Fox News all day long.” Country is moving the other way. Now we face the tough stuff.

    I’d also like to point out DeSantis’s 32,000 voter margin of victory in the last election, with nearly twice that number of voters dead from COVID-19. I’m sure he’d love Floridians to think that “gay” issues are the only thing that’s facing the country right now. After all, back in the Obama era, that really was the only real problems we had to face. Now after 4 years of being ravaged by Trump, we have 1 million dead from a pandemic, triple inflation, and a collapsing healthcare system that ranks as the most expensive – and worst – in the industrialized world.

    In short, we don’t have time for this Ron. Americans don’t live on Fox News, they live in America, the place that had a coup in January 2021. We’re rebuilding.

    • DazzleRazzle

      February 9, 2022 at 10:22 am

      A. There was no pandemic unless you think marketing is a pandemic, then I’ll agree.
      B. A healthcare system that has for decades has experimented upon the populace in the form of vaccinations and medications? Yeah, it’s totally a problem.
      C. What is wrong with parallel fronts? Have you seen federal funds being sent to counties around the state for infrastructure? That was directed by DeSantis. I’m not a fan boy of TV Ron but he’s not a disaster.
      D. Are you speaking about margin of victory in a broken election system? That’s laughable. Be more concerned on how our first amendment rights have been usurped from us for decades.
      E. Labeling anyone who pushes back against the societal manipulation of overt sexual speech, discussion, etc. in class rooms as Fox News watchers is trite at best.
      F. Blame all the representatives people like you keep re-electing for term after term after term who do absolutely nothing for their constituents except reinforce the already dug in establishment. Everyone likes to blame Trump. It’s not accurate. You are not being an accurate person in your discourse.

      • Tjb

        February 9, 2022 at 11:58 am

        Telling corporations on what to do in this context sounds like what communist leadership would mandate.

        • IIdentifyAsAToasterStrudle

          February 9, 2022 at 1:00 pm

          Where did this response even come from? I tell ya what though, since you brought it up, we’re already there Tjb! See exhibit A: Blackrock. Monopoly is communism.

          • Tjb

            February 9, 2022 at 1:29 pm

            Just saving that DeSantis wants to control the corporation ability to freely make decisions, especially with free speech (First Amendment). Totalitarianism would have been a better choice of words than communism. But both gives the government too much power to dictate what a corporation can do.
            For a governor that promotes Freedom in Florida, this bill does not promote freedom.

    • terry jacks

      February 10, 2022 at 12:16 pm

      Hah, funny, worst medicine. You must live on a mountain? We have the best medicine by far compared to my Canadian family members that are treaty like cattle. Stop hating America. Open your eyes and travel to a 3rd world country. DeSantis is by far, the best governor in America supporting common sense people.

  • FrankAndJerry

    February 9, 2022 at 12:07 pm

    Where did this response even come from? I tell ya what though, since you brought it up, we’re already there Tjb! See exhibit A: Blackrock. Monopoly is communism.

  • Melt

    February 9, 2022 at 5:36 pm

    Well said! We should all be tired of the political circus shows and looking for real ways we can better care for our families…. Like higher wages, less taxes, better healthcare, and more opportunities for working class Americans to better raise our standards of living across the board. We need to stop treating our kids like they are stupid and stop attacking teachers that already have difficult and underpaid jobs. Think people…where did you first learn about sex? Friends! School may have an influence as far as social relationships and kids being curious about “adult topics” but it’s most often not taught by teachers. We already have a shortage of teachers in Florida. Most public school teachers are notoriously liberals… They work for far less pay than what the merits of the job provide and they have to be somewhat “bleeding hearts” as it is to be able to care enough to teach… It’s an attack on public schools to get more teachers to quit. We should all be concerned that uneducated, belligerent parents are now given a pass to harass and threaten teachers to the point that they could be sued simply for being honest about American history. It’s nuts. Stop blaming educators for your poor parenting. Stop creating laws that do nothing except create more arguments and more divisiveness among us and let’s do real work to support working class families from incuring years of poverty following the after effects of a GLOBAL pandemic. It’s NOT made up… It’s worldwide and yet everything in America is categorized as part of a political agenda?! We are better than this… The loudest in the room is usually NOT the majority and most Americans are not as dumb as the politicians think we are.

    • terry jacks

      February 10, 2022 at 12:18 pm

      The bill is right. All races need protection. Whites do not deserve to be made to feel bad especially since Europeans made this country the best. Too much America hate fed by lies that you espouse to. Take it from me, a foreigner.

  • AnonyBussJ

    February 10, 2022 at 9:55 am

    I’m truly disgusted there are still people out there that are completely brainwashed by the propaganda fed to them via GOVERNMENT funded media organizations.
    Wake up people. Ignorance is a choice.
    The most dangerous thing to freedom you’ll ever hear is “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help”.

    • Who Wants Freedom?

      February 10, 2022 at 10:02 am

      When I grew up, we all said F The Man! I am an early 80s baby though. Perhaps all these younger folks don’t understand that big daddy government will never give you a hug and a kiss. Big daddy government only makes you kiss their rings while they’re stealing you life force, children, and property!
      Wake up indeed…

      • terry jacks

        February 10, 2022 at 12:20 pm

        What? are you saying that we should tell our white kids ( who are the vast majority) that they are the reason for other people’s problems? What and amazingly foolish side to take.

        • MasterBlaster

          February 10, 2022 at 1:20 pm

          Children need be left out of this discussion kiddo. Apathy is the fault of the citizens allowing the establishment to prosper and fester. Children need to be shown the goodness of civic duty and solid morals. Both of which can be done in a classroom.
          Reading, writing, arithmetic along with the previous two, inside the classroom. Lords know schools don’t teach accurate history. Most people walking around don’t know anything but spoon fed lies. You seem to fall in that camp as well.

  • Luanna

    February 22, 2022 at 1:53 am

    Dear Editor, my name is Luanna and I am a Social Work student here in Florida. I think the “anti-woke” legislation (HB 7) that Ron Desantis is pushing for is a huge step backwards in the progress we have been making as a society in becoming more socially aware and competent. How can we expect our children to learn from the mistakes of our ancestors if they are never taught the negative parts of history? I think that passing this bill would create blissful ignorance in our children where they believe that if something is out of sight, then it’s out of mind. If they are not directly involved in an issue, then it doesn’t pertain to nor concern them. This mentality is dangerous. In order to avoid repeating the errors of the past we must be educated on the wrongdoings of our elders. As time goes on, we become better people and more socially aware as a society because we are learning.
    It is true that not all topics taught in history class are going to be easy. The bill’s sponsor, Bryan Avlia, stated that the bill’s purpose was not to discriminate but instead make sure children are learning in a positive environment. While this is indeed an important element, not all topics- especially those pertaining to American or world history- are going to be comfortable and pleasant to learn about. History is so important because it makes us uncomfortable and it makes us want to invoke change and be better. Just because the topics may be controversial or uncomfortable, doesn’t mean they are unimportant. The “anti-woke” bill would only make it harder to teach children these necessary topics about the reality of our history, our ancestors, and our lives.

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