Stop W.O.K.E. Act Continues to Be Blocked in Florida, Claims ACLU

By Kaylee Pearlman 

ORLANDO, FL – The “Stop Wrongs Against Our Kids and Employees Act” (Stop W.O.K.E. Act) continues to be blocked by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, according to the ACLU this week.

This bill “specifically targets and places vague restrictions on educators’ ability to teach and discuss concepts around the legacy of slavery in America, white privilege, and anti-racism,” said the ACLU.

Leah Watson, the senior staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program noted that “the court’s decision to leave in place the preliminary injunction is a recognition of the serious injury posed to educators and students by the Stop W.O.K.E. Act.

“All students and educators deserve to have a free and open exchange about issues related to race in our classrooms—not censored discussions that erase the history of discrimination and lived experiences of Black and Brown people, women and girls, and LGBTQ+ individuals,” Watson added.

A lawsuit—Pernell v. Lamb—was filed by a multi-racial group of educators, cites a Florida college student who was “challenging the discriminatory classroom censorship law that severely restricts Florida educators and students from engaging in scholarship about issues related to race and gender,” according to the ACLU.

This lawsuit, said the ACLU, argues “the Stop W.O.K.E. Act violates the First and 14th Amendments by imposing viewpoint-based restrictions on educators…and students that are vague and discriminatory.”

The ACLU adds “it argues (the Act) violates the Equal Protection Clause because it was enacted with the intent to discriminate Black educators and students.”

“We are heartened by the court’s decision to leave in place the preliminary injunction by the federal court in November,” said the assistant counsel of the Legal Defense Fund, Alexis Johnson.

“Institutions of higher education in Florida should have the ability to provide a quality education, which simply cannot happen when students and educators, including Black students and educators, feel they cannot speak freely about their lived experiences,” added Johnson

According to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, his plan would “prohibit higher education institutions from using any funding, regardless of source.”

But, the ACLU states, “It’s yet another attempt to stop educators from teaching or even expressing viewpoints on race, racism, or gender that are disfavored by Florida lawmakers.”

Jerry Edwards, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Florida, said, “We are pleased that the court protected the First Amendment rights of Florida students and educators by denying the State’s request for a stay.”

Edwards continues, “Lawmakers continue to threaten our democracy by attempting to curtail important discussions about our collective history and treatments of Black and Brown communities. This is an important step in preserving the truth, civil liberties, and a better future.”

The Stop W.O.K.E. Act, according to the ACLU, “imposes harsh penalties…for educators who have been found to violate the law…universities across Florida have canceled or scaled back diversity and inclusion training and have taken down public facing statements denouncing racism.”

The ACLU argues, “This creates a hostile climate that stigmatizes discussions about race on campuses and generates fear among plaintiffs and other Black educators and students who teach or take coursework that touch upon race and gender issues.”

Jason Leckerman, litigation department chair at Ballard Spahr notes, “The movement to restrict academic freedom and curtail the rights of marginalized communities is as persuasive as it is pernicious. We are proud of the work we have done so far with our partners, the ACLU and Legal Defense Fund, but the fight is far from over.”

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