Florida’s Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee introduced a bill on Wednesday that state Democrats say only fan the flames of the state legislature’s partisan culture war. .
supported by Republicans House Bill 7, titled “Individual Freedom,” could prevent Florida educators from teaching sensitive topics — such as race, discrimination and historical events like the Holocaust — in a way that could be construed as taking sides or away from objectivity. It’s a value dear to the heart of the bill’s Republican sponsor, Rep. Bryan Avila of Miami Springs.
“No individual is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously, solely because of their race or gender,” Avila insisted. House Bill 7, he said, sets out the principles “that formed our great nation.”
Against “Reawakened” Teaching in Florida Classrooms
The bill is the House’s version of “anti-awakening” legislation introduced by Gov. Ron DeSantis last year. This proposal targets the teaching of critical race theory in Florida’s K-12 public schools — a problem that teachers and Democrats say does not exist.
Rep. Avila’s bill seeks to prevent students and workers from being subjected to workplace training or instruction that “forces” certain perspectives on matters of race, color, gender or ethnicity. national origin. The bill, he argues, would protect the “individual liberty” of Floridians by prioritizing objectivity — and avoiding taking sides on issues of injustice.
Teachers oppose bill
But not everyone buys it. Namely, Democratic lawmakers — who fear the bill constitutes censorship — and the many members of the public who spoke out against the bill Wednesday in public testimony.
The opposing group included a lobbyist for the Florida Education Association (FEA), the state’s largest union for teachers and education support staff.
“This bill has already created anxiety and confusion among teachers about how to teach what is an accurate but difficult story,” said FEA’s Michael Monroe. “Teachers know how to facilitate sensitive conversation,” he added, “But this measure draws a very fine line between professional teaching and objective teaching. This measure will subject our professional educators to frivolous disciplinary charges that will force them to defend themselves and protect their teaching certificates and reputation.
Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar shares these concerns. “I think we would be concerned that the teachers would be under investigation, potentially disciplined for teaching what the curriculum requires us to teach,” Spar told WMNF in a phone call Wednesday afternoon. He pointed out that teaching standards are already set by the state of Florida. Educators teach these standards based on curriculum adopted by school districts, often based on Florida State recommendations.
Ban books in Florida public schools
In addition to its call for “objective” education, Bill 7 could also ban books and other learning materials that make students feel uncomfortable or guilty about their racial, ethnic or gender identity. Rep. Dianne Hart, a Democrat from Tampa, called it bringing dystopian fiction to life. “This bill essentially bans books and literature that simply seeks to educate,” Hart said, adding that it “cripples” the ability of public educators in Florida to teach effectively.
As things stand, Florida faces a massive teacher shortage. And Hart expressed concern that this bill could worsen the shortage of teachers of color in classrooms. FEA’s Andrew Spar echoed this. “We need to do everything we can to support and uplift the teachers and staff who work in our schools and make sure they stay.”
When lawmakers debate whether teachers can be trusted to teach lesson materials that enrich children’s knowledge of history — not indoctrinate them, as the bill’s text suggests — Spar says it hurts the teacher morale.
History of “laundering”
But it’s not just teachers and Democratic lawmakers who are worried about the controversial bill. Michidael Ceard of the Florida Student Power Network, said the bill would likely censor books – like Toni Morison’s Beloved – which were the basis of his motivation to pursue higher studies in literature and to become an advocate for Florida students. “This bill would prevent people from learning about black experiences and history. It whitens the story, when we know that people of color make up just over 48% of the people in this state,” said Dael, a Haitian immigrant and self-described product of the Florida public school system. “As someone who now works with young people, listened to their experiences, and fought in solidarity against attacks on their lives and identities – I beg you all, I implore you all, to stop HB 7.”
A representative of the Florida Citizens Alliance – an education-focused nonprofit that loudly advocated for banning books referring to sex, same-sex marriage and LGBTQ relationships from public schools — was one of the only members of the public to voice support for the bill.
While opponents insist the bills would censor meaningful classroom conversations, House Republicans have repeatedly insisted it won’t ban tough talking topics — but didn’t. added that little was said about how “objective” teaching standards would be applied, how subjects like The Holocaust could be objectively taught, or how teachers should prepare for accountability – as Hart described it – to “regulate” the feelings of pupils made uncomfortable by the discussion in class.
Protecting Florida Teachers
Spar told WMNF that the FEA is committed to using its resources to protect teachers, should they face disciplinary action or scrutiny for teaching hot topics and historical events for a place of truth.
“The Florida Education Association – along with our two national unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers – has made an unwavering commitment to all teachers who teach in our schools, that when they teach truth and history of our country, we will be there to defend them if anyone tries to sue them for teaching the truth.
HB 7 progresses through Judiciary Committee
Despite a heated debate, the GOP-dominated Judiciary Committee approved the measure Wednesday, along party lines, 14-7. It must approve two more committees before it can be considered by the full House. Its twin in the Senate, Senate Bill 148, passed its first vote in committee last week.