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DeSantis signs ‘Stop Woke Act,’ Disney bills in Hialeah Gardens

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed three bills into law Friday at an hour-long event that featured a stage full of his supporters, children holding “Stop Woke” and anti-critical race theory signs and speeches from parents and state officials denouncing what they refer to as a “woke” education.

He signed House Bill 7, titled “Individual Freedom” and known as the “Stop Woke Act” and two other bills at Mater Academy Charter Middle/High School in Hialeah Gardens.

The other two bills were a measure that would strip six special districts, including the Reedy Creek Improvement District where Walt Disney World is located, of their governmental powers, and a fix to the “Big Tech” social-media bill, formally removing the special carve-out for theme parks. (DeSantis signed the tech bill last year, but it was set aside because a court ruled the carve-out was inappropriate.)

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses the crowd before signing HB 7, titled ‘Individual Freedom’ and also dubbed the ‘Stop Woke Act,’ during a press conference at Mater Academy Charter Middle/High School in Hialeah Gardens, Florida, on Friday, April 22, 2022. DeSantis also signed two other bills into laws, including a measure that would strip six special districts, including the Reedy Creek Improvement District where Walt Disney World is located, of their governmental powers, and one amending the “big tech” bill signed last year. Daniel A. Varela [email protected]

The Legislature in March passed the “Stop Woke Act,” which limits how race-related issues are taught in public universities, colleges and in workplace training. The two other bills signed Friday were passed during the Legislature’s special session this week.

READ MORE: What HB 7 means to workplace training for businesses

READ MORE: What HB 7 means to Florida’s state colleges and universities

Minutes after signing the bills, a group of plaintiffs from across Florida filed a federal lawsuit against the governor, Attorney General Ashley Moody and others challenging the constitutionality of House Bill 7, which was first reported by the Tallahassee Democrat.

The group claims the bill violates First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Florida.

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Schoolchildren holding signs against the concept of critical race theory stand on stage as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses the crowd before signing HB 7, titled the ‘Individual Freedom’ bill but also dubbed the ‘Stop Woke Act,’ during a press conference at Mater Academy Charter Middle/High School in Hialeah Gardens on Friday, April 22, 2022. Daniel A. Varela [email protected]

‘Education, not indoctrination,’ DeSantis says

Friday afternoon’s bill-signing event focused primarily on HB 7.

From the podium, where a sign that read “freedom from indoctrination” hung, DeSantis said the new law “provides substantive protections” for students and parents to ensure what’s taught in the classroom falls in line with state standards that ban “pernicious ideologies like CRT [critical race theory]” in K-12 schools. (The measure, however, targets colleges and universities, not K-12 schools.)

“We believe in education, not indoctrination,” DeSantis said, which was met with loud applause. “We won’t use your tax dollars to teach our kids to hate this country.”

The governor pointed to The New York Times’ 1619 project to exemplify what specifically would be barred from the classroom.

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A crowd reacts to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ remarks before he signed HB 7, ‘Individual Freedom,’ also dubbed the “Stop Woke Act,” during a press conference at Mater Academy Charter Middle/High School in Hialeah Gardens, Florida, on Friday, April 22, 2022. Daniel A. Varela [email protected]

Christopher Rufo, who sparked the national movement against critical race theory, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran also spoke at the event, among others.

Corcoran, who is leaving at the end of the month after serving since 2018, applauded the bill, saying it is needed to move America forward. “If we want to keep this wonderful experience called America … we have to get our education right.”

For their part, Democrats throughout the legislative session denounced the bill, arguing that it was an attempt by Republicans not only in Florida but across the country to rewrite history.

In March, Sen. Shevrin Jones, a West Park Democrat, said the move was “a continuation of a national agenda to whitewash history, all because we don’t want white children to feel uncomfortable?”

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Outgoing Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran speaks to the crowd before Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs HB 7, the ‘Individual Freedom’ bill also dubbed the ‘Stop Woke Act,’ during a press conference at Mater Academy Charter Middle/High School in Hialeah Gardens, Florida, on Friday, April 22, 2022. Daniel A. Varela [email protected]

The next education commissioner

Also among the crowd was state Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., whom DeSantis on Thursday recommended to succeed Corcoran.

Diaz didn’t speak Friday, but the Hialeah Republican who was HB 7’s Senate sponsor has previously defended the bill.

“My assurance and my intention in this [bill] is to improve the conversations in our classrooms and our workplace, to provide those trainings, to provide those lessons, without imposing responsibility on someone who did not commit the act,” he said in March.

Friday’s location was of particular importance given Diaz’s recent recommendation.

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis reacts after signing HB 7, titled the ‘Individual Freedom’ bill, also dubbed the ‘Stop Woke Act,’ at Mater Academy Charter Middle/High School in Hialeah Gardens, Florida, on Friday, April 22, 2022. Daniel A. Varela [email protected]

Mater Academy’s parent company is Academica, a Miami-based for-profit network of public charter schools, colleges and nonprofit organizations that provide administrative services to charters. Among Academica’s schools is Doral College, where Diaz is vice president for financial affairs.

The former Miami public school teacher and vice principal has been an ardent supporter of charter schools and the privatization of public schools.

On Friday, both United Teachers of Dade and the Broward Teachers Union released statements congratulating Diaz for the recommendation.

“Despite our differences in the past, we trust that Mr. Manny Diaz Jr.’s appointment brings him back to his educational roots,” said UTD President Karla Hernandez-Mats in a statement. “We hope that he will become the champion that our teachers and para-professionals need and deserve.”

The State Board of Education would have to approve the governor’s recommendation. It is scheduled to take up Diaz’s confirmation next Friday.

This story was originally published April 22, 2022 6:27 PM.

Profile Image of Sommer Brugal

Sommer Brugal is the K-12 education reporter for the Miami Herald. Before making her way to Miami, she covered three school districts on Florida’s Treasure Coast for TCPalm, part of the USA Today Network.

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