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Florida lawmakers pass bill banning 'woke' school lessons, workplace training

In the wake of debate over critical race theory, which isn't taught in Florida schools at any grade, Gov. DeSantis says this bill is about stopping indoctrination.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida lawmakers approved a bill that bans school lessons or workplace training that could make participants feel discomfort or guilt. 

It passed the Senate by a 24-15 vote.

HB 7 – known as the “Individual Freedom” bill – says it is discrimination to force anyone to take any teaching or training that makes them "feel guilt" based on their "race, color, sex or national origin." It now heads to Gov. Ron DeSantis' desk, where he's likely to sign it into law.

The bill bans any teachings or trainings that “espouses, promotes, advances, inculcates, or compels” someone to believe a particular race or sex is morally superior, or an individual can be inherently racist or sexist.

Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel spoke in support of the bill, saying her children shouldn't be raised to feel guilty over the decisions made by people generations prior. 

"This bill is not saying we're not going to study and learn about slavery and racism and the holocaust and what we did when we moved to this country-- what we did to the Indians," Stargel said. 

"But, that we of white privilege are supposed to feel guilt and shame? I don't subscribe to that. I think we need to learn. We need to change. We need to work together. But I don't think that we should be teaching a certain race that we are better or worse than another."

Several Democrats took the opportunity to speak in opposition to the legislation. 

"This bill reflects the gross misunderstanding of critical race theory. Not only are those principles self-evident statements, which no person disagrees, they do not accurately portray CRT," Sen. Janet Cruz said. "CRT stands for the belief that the instruction of the history of our country would be incomplete without understanding the real oppression of individuals because of the color of their skin."

In wake of debate over what’s known as critical race theory, supporters, including DeSantis, say this bill is about stopping “woke” indoctrination and expanding protections from discrimination.

DeSantis proposed legislation called the Stop W.O.K.E. Act to address critical race theory back in December.

The Florida Education Association teachers union criticized the bill and recently passed HB 1557 — known as the "Parental Rights in Education" or the "Don't Say Gay" bill, according to critics – as "censorship" legislation that will "limit what schools can say and teach regarding our nation's history and regarding issues related to students who are part of or associated with the LGBTQ+ community."

“Educators love their students. We all want to make sure that every child can grow and thrive, regardless of race, background, ZIP code or ability,” Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar said in a statement. “These bills mean some of our students will no longer feel safe and secure, or even seen, based on who they are. 

"Both bills promote discrimination and censorship, and send the clearly un-American message to students that individuality is not valued, that everyone must conform to a single point of view.”

Critical race theory is defined by Meriam-Webster as “a group of concepts used for examining the relationship between race and the laws and legal institutions of a country and especially the United States.”

The theory is not taught in Florida schools at any grade level right now. According to the bill's analysis, it would prevent the topic from being taught in order to block what it classified as a distortion of historical events that are inconsistent with State Board of Education guidelines.

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