Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis continued his crusade against critical race theory (CRT) on Wednesday when he unveiled the Stop W.O.K.E. Act, legislation that would allow parents to sue school districts if they believe their children are being taught CRT concepts.
The state already has a ban in place on teaching CRT though an amendment approved this past summer by the Florida State Board of Education. The amendment defines critical race theory as “the theory that racism is not merely the product of prejudice, but that racism is embedded in American society and its legal systems in order to uphold the supremacy of white persons.” The amendment also prohibits teaching with material from The New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project, which recontextualized America’s founding around the arrival of the first slave ships to its shores in 1619.
Former President Trump signed an executive order barring entities with federal contract from including “Divisive Concepts,” “Race or Sex Stereotyping,” and “Race or Sex Scapegoating” in their teaching or training. After Trump left office, Biden reversed it.
In justifying the newly proposed Florida ban, DeSantis shamelessly paraphrased civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. “You think about what M.L.K. stood for — he said he didn’t want people judged on the color of their skin, but on the content of their character. You listen to some of these people nowadays, they don’t talk about that,” DeSantis said at a press conference Wednesday, standing behind a podium with a sign that read: “STOP WOKE ACT.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) quotes MLK while introducing the “Stop Woke Act” to ban critical race theory. pic.twitter.com/m2RhnWhALD
— The Recount (@therecount) December 15, 2021
“What you’ve seen with this rise in woke ideology is an attempt to really delegitimize our history and to delegitimize our institutions. I view wokeness as a form of cultural Marxism,” DeSantis told the cheering crowd, adding, “They really want to tear at the fabric of our society and our culture and things that we’ve taken for granted, like the ability of parents to direct the upbringing of their kids.”
According to a flyer from DeSantis’s office, the Stop W.O.K.E. Act (a.k.a. the “Stop Wrongs Against Our Kids and Employees Act”) will:
- Codify the ban put in place by the state’s education board this summer prohibiting the teaching of critical race theory in K-12 classrooms.
- Give parents a “private right of action” to sue a school district if they believe their child has been taught critical race theory. Parents will also be able to recover attorney’s fees if they win their suit, DeSantis said.
- Ban school districts, colleges, and universities from hiring “woke CRT consultants.”
- Protect employees “against a hostile work environment due to critical race theory training”
“Honestly, the parents know best what’s going on, and they’re in the best position to be able to to it,” he claimed. He further asserted that schools will “fear lawsuits more than a fine from the state Department of Education” because lawsuits require discovery, which he believes would uncover “all this information that [schools] are doing it,” meaning teaching CRT in opposition to the existing ban.
This is not the first time a Republican has proposed private citizens suing as a way of enforcing a law. Texas’ Republican Gov. Greg Abbott this year signed into law an abortion ban that prohibits the procedure after six weeks gestation. That law, which abortion providers are challenging in court, deputizes private citizens to sue anyone who performs or helps a person obtain an abortion for up to $10,000. The Supreme Court, in a ruling last week, allowed the abortion law to stand while providers pursue legal recourse.