Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed three bills into law Tuesday (June 22). One of them requires high school students in the state to learn about “the evils of communism.
DeSantis signed the bills at a news conference at Three Oaks Middle School in Fort Myers. Two of the bills – HB5 and SB1108 – focus on civic education; the third – HB233 – requires state colleges and universities to protect free speech.
Specifically, HB5 requires the Florida Department of Education to develop a comprehensive K-12 civics education curriculum that includes teaching students the common rights afforded to citizens under the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
The measure also adds a requirement that the public high school curriculum “include a comparative discussion of political ideologies, such as communism and totalitarianism, that conflict with the principles of freedom and democracy that are essential to the founding principles of the United States.
In short, high schools must provide “instruction on the evils of communist and totalitarian ideologies. DeSantis said Florida has residents who have fled totalitarian regimes and communist dictatorships such as Cuba and Vietnam to live in the United States.
We want all students to understand the difference,” he said. Why would anyone want to escape shark-infested waters …… Why would people leave these countries and risk their lives to be able to come here? It’s important for students to understand that.”
DeSantis said HB5 would also provide a library of “patriotic portraits” that would showcase personal stories including “true patriots who came to this country after seeing the horrors of these communist regimes.
The Republican governor also signed SB 1108. The bill requires state university students to take civic literacy courses and civic literacy assessments in order to graduate. Prior to this bill, students were only required to do one of these, either a course or an assessment.
High school students would also be required to take the civic literacy assessment. If they passed the test, they would be exempt from taking the civic education test at a college or university.
The bill also expands the “character development curriculum” for high school juniors and seniors, which includes instruction on how to register to vote.
In a statement, DeSantis said he was proud to sign these bills that prioritize civics education.
The sad reality is that only two in five Americans can correctly name the three branches of government, and more than a third of Americans cannot name any of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment,” he said. It is clear that we need to do a better job of civic education in order to prepare them for the rest of their lives.”
The third bill DeSantis signed, HB 233, is designed to protect “intellectual freedom and diversity of opinion” in postsecondary education.
It requires state colleges and universities to conduct annual assessments of freedom of thought and diversity of opinion at these institutions. The bill defines “freedom of thought and diversity of opinion” as “exposing and encouraging students to explore a variety of ideological and political views.
The new law would also prohibit schools engaged in postsecondary education from restricting students and staff from accessing or discussing “ideas and opinions that they may find uncomfortable, unwelcome, disagreeable or offensive.
“We obviously want our universities to focus on critical thinking, academic rigor.” DeSantis said at the news conference, “We don’t want them to essentially be hotbeds of stereotypical ideology – that’s not worth taxpayer money, and that’s not something we’re going to support going forward.”
He noted, “People used to think that a college campus was a place where you would be exposed to these ideas. Unfortunately, the norm now is that these environments are really particularly suppressive of ideas. You have generally accepted ideas being promoted and other ideas being shunned or even suppressed. We don’t want that to happen in Florida. You need to have a real competition of ideas.”
“Students should not be shielded from ideas, and we want strong, First Amendment-protected speech on our college and university campuses.” The governor said.
The three bills are the latest round of efforts by the DeSantis administration to focus on education in Florida.
In 2019, DeSantis signed an executive order involving the complete elimination of Common Core in Florida, the teaching standards for reading, writing and math that have been adopted by most states since 2010.
In the order, DeSantis said in 2019 that he directed Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to advise the state legislature, including on how to improve testing and “determine how to truly make civics education a priority in Florida.”
Most recently, the Florida governor supported the state Board of Education’s decision to ban the teaching of critical race theory in public schools.