TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law new guidelines Friday involving race-based discussions in businesses and schools as part of his campaign against critical race theory, which he called “pernicious" ideology.
Passed by lawmakers earlier this year, the legislation bars instruction that says members of one race are inherently racist, and that they should feel guilt for past actions committed by others of the same race or that a person’s status as privileged or oppressed is necessarily determined by their race. It also bars the notion that meritocracy is racist, or that discrimination is acceptable to achieve diversity.
“We believe in education, not indoctrination,” DeSantis said during Friday's bill signing in South Florida.
DeSantis said Florida students will not have oppressive ideologies imposed on them, as the bill provides “substantive protections” for students in grades K to 12. He said “pernicious ideologies” will not be allowed.
“We will not use your tax dollars to teach our kids to hate this country or hate each other,” DeSantis said.
Opponents say DeSantis doesn’t have an accurate idea of what critical race theory is, and argue that his motives are to suppress an accurate account of Black history.
“It’s just illustrating Gov. DeSantis’ pattern of Black attack policies led by Republican legislators. He has taken a culture war to a classic Republican battleground, which is the public schools. It’s going to hurt our children’s futures,”' said Democratic Rep. Angie Nixon, who is Black. “CRT is not taught in K-12 education here in our public schools."
DeSantis’ focus on culture war issues involving race, gender and the coronavirus have made him one of the most popular Republican politicians in the country and a likely 2024 presidential candidate.
Critical race theory centers on the idea that racism is systemic in U.S. institutions and that they function to maintain the dominance of white people in society. There is little evidence that critical race theory itself is being taught to K-12 public school students, though some ideas central to it have been incorporated into teaching materials.
Black lawmakers in Florida have said they believe the legislation will have a chilling effect on how African American history is taught because teachers will fear lawsuits if students’ parents object to how they present subjects like slavery, segregation, lynchings and the continued presence of racism in the U.S.
“The governor is on his bogeyman tour of issues that are not issues,” Democratic Sen. Shevrin Jones, who is Black, said in an interview. “The Republicans continuously cloak themselves in freedom, but clearly pick and choose which freedoms and for whom they support said freedoms .. They sure don’t support the freedoms of Black people.”
The new law does expand language in state law requiring classroom instruction on ”the ramifications of prejudice, racism and stereotyping on individual freedoms,” as well as study of the history of slavery, segregation and racial oppression, and of contributions by Blacks in U.S. history. But such material cannot seek to “indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view” inconsistent with the law.
“What are we supposed to do, just let these ideologies overtake our entire education system?” DeSantis said at a campaign-style event Friday to sign the bill in the South Florida city of Hialeah. The gathered crowd responded, ’Noooo.'
“This is an ideology that was taking hold in a lot of elite institutions, the media, corporate America, the bureaucracy, the education establishment. Most Americans don’t want anything to do with this stuff,” DeSantis said.
Associated Press writer David Fischer contributed to this report from Miami.