Florida judge blocks ‘Stop WOKE Act’ in higher education, gives educators hope | News

Faculty and students are claiming victory as a federal judge placed a preliminary injunction on House Bill 7 on Thursday.

A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction on House Bill 7 in a 139-page court order on Nov. 17, which faculty and students claim is a win-win for education.

HB7, commonly referred to as the WOKE Law, was banned in part by Judge Mark E. Walker for attempting to “muzzle” professors’ speech and control what can and cannot be taught in class.

Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed this legislation in December of 2021 and announced it as a way for the state to take a stand against teaching critical race theory, a framework that views race as a systemic form of cultural and legal oppression, among other things. According to Britannica.

According to the Legal Defense Fund, the injunction, which the bill sued, immediately blocks enforcement of HB7 by members of the Florida Board of Governors. The final ruling of the bill will be determined at a later date.

Andrew Gothard, president of Florida United College, said he was boarding a plane to Portland, Oregon, for a National Education Association conference when he found out that the Stop WOKE Act had been outlawed by Walker.

“We had hoped that Judge Walker would put an injunction on the law simply because it is clearly discrimination of viewpoint and an assault on freedom of expression and academic freedom, so we certainly had high hopes, but his ruling was much more comprehensive and emphatic about faculty rights and student rights,” Gothard said. How far has the government of Florida gone too far in crafting this legislation?”

Gothard said the union’s hope is to scrap HB7 entirely because the government does not have the right to impose restrictions on classroom content and discussion.

This is the path to tyranny. This is the path to fascism, and you can’t do that,” Gothard said.

Gothard offered a solution for how the Florida government should deal with teachers who teach controversial subjects so that they can steer clear of legislation that stops discussion of said subjects.

“If you want to prevent certain ideas from gaining traction, the way you do that in an education system is that you refute them. You present convincing evidence and convince people with reason and arguments,” Gothard said. “You don’t pass legislation that silences Americans and their ability to express themselves.” about the ideas they believe in.”

This bill caused an uproar in the education system and was challenged not only in this case but by UCF’s UFF chapter president Robert Cassanello.

The injunction in this case was not surprising, Cassanello said, because Walker’s stature led him to question that decision.

Walker was the same judge who sided with Casanello in his lawsuit against HB7.

When asked how the lawsuit Casanello would be involved in would be affected, he said the case is still going to appeal.

Regarding the lawsuit, the lawsuit will continue. It’s just one step towards it. “Now that the injunction is over, what it means is that the proper lawsuit can move forward, so we’ll probably now get into the actual lawsuit,” Casanello said.

He said that many of his peers were relieved by the decision, and he was able to say “finally” when the news of the matter was announced.

Cassanello said he hopes Walker will continue on the same path with the decisions he’s made so far.

“I think people who think the law violates the First Amendment probably have some hope in this lawsuit, just because of what Judge Walker has written,” Casanello said.

Gothard said students should view this discussion as a victory.

“We think students should be thrilled with this decision because what it means is that your professors will not be constrained by state requirements,” Gothard said.

Gian Arellano, a theater studies major, said he’s glad the STOP WOKE law was outlawed and shared why he thinks the legislation is unfair.

“I don’t agree with the STOP WOKE act; I think it comes from a place of privilege on the part of Ron DeSantis and his entire party for pushing this notion that race is not something that plays an active role in people’s lives,” Arellano said.

He said DeSantis is trying to hide the contents of this act as an effort to treat all races equally, when in fact the problem is that the history of race needs to be taught in school.

“It’s as if he’s trying to put a lid on the issue and ignore it completely,” Arellano said.

Arellano said faculty should be allowed to teach race in history so that students can recognize certain behaviors and act accordingly.

“It’s not about, like I say, you should feel guilty; it’s about accountability and awareness and being a better person moving forward,” Arellano said.

Arellano said he’s glad the reason this injunction was developed was to advocate for freely discussing problems in the community.

“Frankly, I think it’s embarrassing that so many people in the United States are trying to cover up its ugly past, and I think if we’re going to deal with that, and then make the appropriate changes, and move forward, we can be a better country instead of trying to sweep everything under rug and then pretend everything isn’t there,” Arellano said.

BFA sophomore Kaitlyn Loughran said she is not very familiar with the Stop WOKE Act but worries that if discussion of race and racism is not taught in schools, history will repeat itself. She said that the history of race needs to be taught in the education system.

“If we don’t, we’re just going backwards, and I think acknowledging the problem isn’t bad, like that’s the only thing you can do,” Loughran said.

Currently, the legislation does not have a final ruling, but some are hopeful that with the path it is on now, the legislation will be overturned.

“We look forward, hopefully, to having this law overturned in the coming months as it is fully heard in court,” Gothard said.

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