TALLAHASSEE, Fla — Civics education will be expanded in Florida, including instruction about communist and totalitarian governments, and state universities will be prevented from quashing conservative ideology under bills Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Tuesday.
DeSantis signed three bills at a Lee County middle school, two of which dealt with civics education, the other guaranteeing the freedom of expression at state universities.
DeSantis said students need to be taught that communist and totalitarian governments are evil.
“Why would somebody flee across shark infested waters, say leaving from Cuba, to come to southern Florida? Why would somebody leave a place like Vietnam? Why would people leave these countries and risk their life to be able to come here? DeSantis said. ”It’s important that students understand that."
The new law will require the development of a K-12 civics curriculum that, among other things, would include “portraits in patriotism” that tell the personal stories of civic-mindedness. Among those stories will be “first-person accounts of victims of other nations’ governing philosophies who can compare those philosophies with those of the United States.”
State university students will be required to pass a civic literacy assessment exam and take a course on civic literacy in order to graduate. Currently they can choose the exam or the course. High school students who take a United States Government course will have to take take a civic literacy assessment exam. If they pass, the university civics requirements will be waived.
The third bill DeSantis signed protects free speech at state universities by saying the schools can't shield students from accessing or observing ideas and opinions "they may find uncomfortable, unwelcome, disagreeable, or offensive.”
Republicans have often criticized universities for promoting liberal ideology. DeSantis said parents worry that when they send their children to universities that they'll become indoctrinated.
“It used be thought that a university campus was a place where you'd be exposed to a lot of different ideas. Unfortunately now, the norm is really these are more intellectually repressive environments,” DeSantis said. “You have orthodoxies that are promoted and other viewpoints are shunned, or even suppressed. We don't want that in Florida.”
The signings come less than two weeks after Florida's state Board of Education banned “critical race theory” from public school classrooms, adopting new rules it said would shield schoolchildren from curricula that could “distort historical events.”
The Florida Education Association had called on the board to reject the proposal.
Appearing by video at that meeting, DeSantis urged board members to adopt the new measures he asserted would serve students with the facts rather than “trying to indoctrinate them with ideology.”
The Black Lives Matter movement has helped bring contentious discussions about race to the forefront of American discourse, and classrooms have become a battleground. Supporters contend that federal law has preserved the unequal treatment of people on the basis of race and that the country was founded on the theft of land and labor.
Opponents of critical race theory say schoolchildren should not be taught that America is fundamentally racist.
Both sides accuse the other of politicizing classroom instruction and violating the free speech rights of countless people by limiting the allowable points of view.
On Tuesday evening, the governor's office released a list of 44 other bills DeSantis signed. The new laws will:
— Require child care facilities to install alarms in vans that transport children to ensure the driver doesn't leave any in the vehicle.
— Create a rare disease advisory council to make recommendations to improve the health of people who have diseases that affect fewer than 200,000 people in the United States.
— Raise the interest rate for construction services when payment is wrongfully withheld.
— Require local governments to provide three years notice to private solid waste companies if they plan to replace them. Governments would also have to pay the company an amount equal to the companies' last 18 months of gross receipts.
— Make it a third-degree felony to falsify information, or to withhold material facts, on a license application to become a a substance abuse service provider.
— Require licenses for genetic counsellors.
— Increase payments to parents whose infant suffers a birth-related neurological injury from $100,000 to $250,000.
— Create a list of teachers and school administrators who have engaged in sexual misconduct with students in order to prevent another district from hiring them.
— Prohibit seclusion of students with disabilities and ban use of restraints for punishment.
— Require first add training, including CPR, for students in grades 9-11.
— Allow massage therapists to use their knees during treatment.
— Require domestic violence centers provide nonresident outreach programs.
— Create the Task Force on Closing the Achievement Gap for Boys.
— Keep parents who are sex offenders from entering into a time sharing agree with the other parent unless a judge approves.
Obby Caina Calvan of the Associated Press and Travis Pittman contributed to this report.