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A federal appeals court has denied a request from Florida’s government to block an injunction against the enforcement of Governor Ron DeSantis’ “Stop-Woke” act in the state’s public universities and colleges. The law seeks to place a widespread ban on the teaching of topics deemed related to Critical Race Theory, and the promotion of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Judges on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the November injunction put in place by Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, which prevented the law from taking effect in the state’s public institutions of higher learning. Upon its passage, the law received several challenges, including from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE).
“Any law that limits the free exchange of ideas in university classrooms should lose in both the court of law and the court of public opinion,” FIRE wrote on social media.
In a statement to Politico, DeSantis’ Press Secretary Bryan Griffin said that the court did “not rule on the merits of our appeal,” and that the administration remained “confident that the law is constitutional.”
DeSantis and the Florida government have made public education a central target in the state’s legislative culture war. In January, the governor proposed widespread reforms of the state’s higher education system aimed at banning schools from “supporting campus activities or programs that promote divisive concepts like DEI and CRT.” Earlier that month, the Florida College System (FCS), an organization of 28 public community and state colleges, announced that it would be evaluating and removing any instances of DEI and CRT from its curriculum by February 2024.
Despite challenges to the implementation of his policies at colleges and universities, the effects of DeSantis’ policies are already being felt in the state. Last year the state recalled more than 50 math textbooks under vague complaints that they contained political and ideological language, and classrooms are restricting access to books until they can be reviewed by a state-accredited specialist for any offending “wokeness.” In February, the state rejected a pilot AP African American Studies curriculum under the guise that it violated the tenets of “Stop-WOKE.”
While DeSantis mulls over a potential run for the presidency in 2024, the governor’s record on education in Florida is already being touted as a potential national model by Republicans. With the GOP emboldened in its efforts to codify state censorship in education, it remains to be seen if the attention-grabbing legislation favored by DeSantis and his admirers will stand the test of the courts.