The SPLC filed a friend brief in a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Florida’s HB 7 (commonly known as the Stop WOKE Act), signed by Governor Ron DeSantis in April. The law, which takes effect July 1, aims to restrict education of children and others about the legacy of racism in the United States in schools and workplaces.
The plaintiffs in the case, Falls against DeSantis, including educators and parents of a burgeoning kindergarten child, argue that HB 7 constitutes a gross violation of their fundamental rights to academic freedom, freedom of expression and access to information under the First Amendment. The SPLC filed the friend (or “friend of the court”) brief in support of plaintiffs in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida.
The amicus brief on behalf of Learning for Justice and the Florida Freedom to Read Project documents “how HB 7 interferes and has interfered with students’ ability to obtain true and accurate information about their society’s history” .
Learning for Justice, a project of the SPLC, was established in 1991 to provide free, age-appropriate educational resources and professional development tools to foster respect and understanding of differences among students in kindergarten through 12th grade. year. The program also helps educators navigate important but difficult conversations with students about race and other topics to prepare them to thrive in a democratic society.
The brief notes that far from indoctrinating students into a so-called “woke agenda,” educators often struggle to teach the history and origins of racism, resulting in a generation of high school graduates who lack basic information about their country’s history, according to a study by Learning for Justice. HB 7 would widen this learning gap as educators, rightly fearful of public threats against them, seek to avoid legal punishment for teaching forbidden topics such as factual disparities in wealth, education and housing for black people in this country. .
“Teaching our country’s history and heritage honestly is not a right or left proposition,” said Bacardi Jackson, acting deputy legal director of the SPLC’s Children’s Rights Practice Group. “Common sense, basic educational principles and educators’ codes of ethics demand it. Our brief on behalf of groups dedicated to the freedom to learn and receive an equitable education makes it clear that this law will have a chilling effect on the education of our children about critical aspects of our society. We join the applicants in Falls against DeSantis by urging the court to block the application of this harmful and unconstitutional law.
While most Florida schools have not indicated how they will respond to HB 7, some indicate a broad interpretation of the law. The Florida Board of Education’s Specification for Social Studies Materials 2022-23 interpreted HB 7 extensively, prohibiting “social justice” and “culturally appropriate teaching”. The Florida Freedom to Read Project discovered through public records requests that even before these specifications were released, the Orange County school system was already considering interpreting the law in this way.
“As a group of parents and educators dedicated to protecting Florida students’ right to access information and ideas, we are very concerned about the wording and intent of HB 7,” said Stephana Ferrell, co-founder of the Florida Freedom to Read Project. “Through our research and in our circles, we have found early indicators that this law contradicts Florida educational standards and will chill speaking (and therefore learning) about racism in America.”
Protect Democracy also filed a separate complaint friend brief on behalf of Division 15 of the American Psychological Association. He cites extensive research illustrating that explicit teaching about racism and diversity has many benefits for students – including increased academic achievement and engagement with their school – and that the omission of such teaching is detrimental to these results.
Top photo: Children in a classroom are being read a story. (Credit: iStock)