A U.S. District judge will decide whether to block Florida’s ‘Stop W.O.K.E. Act.’ signed into law in April, as Politico notes. The legislation, which Gov. Ron Desantis endorsed, will limit racial discussions and diversity training in schools, colleges, and businesses once it goes into effect on July 1st.
The timing of the ruling is important because school officials are currently working on guidance for teachers during the upcoming year. There’s a trial date for April, but the plaintiffs are looking for a preliminary injunction to be handed down until then. Keep in mind that there are no instances of Critical Race theory in Florida’s K-12 education system.
The main argument that the WOKE act opponents are bringing to Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker is that the law violates the First Amendment protection of free speech. Florida state lawyers have countered and said the WOKE Act “regulates pure Government speech.” That would include school lesson plans, but allows for teachers to speak about race to students outside the classroom. If that reasoning is allowed to stand, it could have a chilling effect on Republican-led states who will use Florida as a blueprint to pass their own laws. The educational system will be subject to teaching a “whitewashed” version of American history.
“The logical and intended effect of these broad principles is to chill employers’ and teachers’ speech when they discuss difficult topics related to race and sex. The state is the ultimate arbiter over whether a given statement violates one of these broad principles. When faced with such ambiguity, most teachers and employers will choose to err on the side of caution and either avoid these topics altogether or espouse ideas with which Florida’s conservative politicians agree, rather than risk discipline, loss of funding, or a lawsuit,” the court filing said.
When Walker asked the plaintiffs why this would harm a kindergarten student, as Politico points out, attorney Elizabeth White replied,” Discussions of race don’t start in the fourth grade – they start at the very beginning.” Florida lawyers defending the WOKE Act tried to connect their line of thinking to businesses teaching diversity training to their employees.
The law could open up diversity training firms that specialize in showing how institutional racism operates. They could have lawsuits filed against them because a person could say “they make them feel guilty.” Judge Walker will issue a decision before the end of the week, but a bigger question about the legality of the ‘Stop WOKE Act’ will have to wait until 2023.