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Fla. bill bans businesses and schools from making anyone feel guilt about race


More than a dozen states have placed restrictions on how race and inequality are taught in schools. Florida's one of them, and the state's governor wants to go further. He's proposed a bill that would ban schools and businesses from teaching subjects or conducting training that would cause white people to feel guilt or discomfort on account of their race. NPR's Greg Allen has the story from Miami.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis calls critical race theory crap. Although it's an academic theory discussed mostly in college education courses, the Republican governor feels it's trickled down to elementary and secondary public schools.


RON DESANTIS: And I think what you see now with the rise of this woke ideology is an attempt to really delegitimize our history.

ALLEN: Last year, DeSantis' administration adopted regulations banning schools from teaching critical race theory. Now he wants to strengthen those regulations and broaden them to include not just schools but also businesses that conduct training to promote diversity and equity.


DESANTIS: Just understand, when you hear equity used, that is just an ability for people to smuggle in their ideology.

ALLEN: The Florida Legislature is now considering a bill proposed by the governor that would prohibit educational lessons or training that cause people to feel, quote, "discomfort, guilt or anguish on account of their race." It doesn't name white people, but DeSantis says it will make sure no race is scapegoated in lessons or training influenced by critical race theory.

The bill's sponsor in the House, Representative Bryan Avila, a Republican, says the measure doesn't suppress discussions of topics like slavery and racial oppression. But others ask, how can teachers be sure a discussion of disturbing historical events like slavery won't make some students uncomfortable? At a House hearing, Avila said he believes teachers know what they should and shouldn't say.


BRYAN AVILA: The moment that there is any sort of hesitation from an educator as to whether they should say something or not, it's always safe and prudent for them to basically err on the side of caution and not say it.


DOTIE JOSEPH: That is the very definition of a chilling effect...

ALLEN: Democratic Representative Dotie Joseph.


JOSEPH: ...Which is a telltale sign of a violation of the First Amendment. This bill is un-American.

ALLEN: At a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee last month, Democratic Representative Ramon Alexander told Republicans on the panel he believed it was written for a single purpose - to mobilize the party's conservative voter base. That drew a rebuke from the chair, Republican Representative Erin Grall.


ERIN GRALL: Representative Alexander, if you can keep your comments to the bill and not direct it to the motivations of the members that are on this committee in either party, please.

RAMON ALEXANDER: Yes, Madam Chair, but I think the motivations is the reason why we're having the bill.

ALLEN: Republicans say the regulations and proposed law aimed at banning critical race theory don't stop the teaching of historical facts. But Michael Butler, a history professor at Flagler College, says that's already happened. Last month, Butler was set to lead a seminar for public school teachers on the history of the civil rights movement that was abruptly canceled. Osceola County School District said it needed to review the materials in light of current concerns about critical race theory. Butler is angry.

MICHAEL BUTLER: I teach historical truth. I know what critical race theory is, and what I was teaching was absolutely, in no way, shape or form, critical race theory.

ALLEN: Osceola County School District says it remains committed to teaching, quote, "the facts and realities of the history of our country." But in the meantime, Butler says, teachers, especially history teachers, are afraid.

BUTLER: I've had several teachers reach out to me and ask, how are we supposed to teach African American history during Black History Month? And I think that's a valid concern.

ALLEN: It's a discussion playing out in Florida and across the country. A measure similar to that nearing adoption in Florida has sparked a federal lawsuit in Oklahoma, filed on behalf of students and teachers who say it violates their freedom of speech.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

(SOUNDBITE OF BALLPOINT'S "FIRST PLACE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.