DeSantis signs ‘stop woke’ act, Disney bills next to a stage full of supporters

One of the measures targets critical race theory at colleges and universities.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis reacts after publicly signing HB7, titled "Individual Freedom" and also dubbed the "stop woke" bill, during a news conference at Mater Academy Charter Middle/High School in Hialeah Gardens.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis reacts after publicly signing HB7, titled "Individual Freedom" and also dubbed the "stop woke" bill, during a news conference at Mater Academy Charter Middle/High School in Hialeah Gardens. [ DANIEL A. VARELA | AP ]
Published April 22, 2022|Updated April 22, 2022

HIALEAH GARDENS — Gov. Ron DeSantis signed three bills into law Friday at an hourlong event that featured a stage full of his supporters, children holding “Stop Woke” and anti-critical race theory signs and speeches from parents and state officials denouncing what they refer to as “woke” education.

He signed House Bill 7, titled “Individual Freedom” and known as the “Stop Woke Act,” and two other bills at Mater Academy Charter Middle/High School in Hialeah Gardens.

One of the bills was a measure that would strip six special districts, including the Reedy Creek Improvement District where Walt Disney world is located, of their governmental powers. Another was a fix to the “Big Tech” social media bill, formally removing the special carveout for theme parks. (DeSantis signed the tech bill last year but it was set aside because a court ruled the carveout was inappropriate.)

The Legislature in March passed the “Stop Woke Act,” which limits how race-related issues are taught in public universities, colleges and in workplace training. The two other bills signed Friday were passed during the Legislature’s special session this week.

Minutes after signing the bills, a group of plaintiffs from across Florida filed a federal lawsuit against the governor, Attorney General Ashley Moody and others challenging the constitutionality of House Bill 7, which was first reported by the Tallahassee Democrat.

The group claims the bill violates First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Florida.

The bill-signing event focused primarily on HB 7.

From the podium, where a sign that read “freedom from indoctrination” hung, DeSantis said the new law “provides substantive protections” for students and parents to ensure what’s taught in the classroom falls in line with state standards that ban “pernicious ideologies like CRT (critical race theory)” in K-12 schools. (The bill targets college and universities, not K-12 schools.)

“We believe in education, not indoctrination,” DeSantis said, to loud applause. “We won’t use your tax dollars to teach our kids to hate this country.”

The governor pointed to the New York Times1619 project to exemplify what specifically would be barred from the classroom.

Christopher Rufo, who sparked the national movement against critical race theory, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran also spoke at the event.

Corcoran, who is leaving at the end of the month after serving since 2018, applauded the bill, saying it is needed to move America forward. “If we want to keep this wonderful experience called America ... we have to get our education right.”

Democrats throughout the legislative session denounced the bill, arguing that it was an attempt by Republicans to rewrite history.

In March, Sen. Shevrin Jones, a West Park Democrat, said the move was “a continuation of a national agenda to whitewash history, all because we don’t want white children to feel uncomfortable?”

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Also in the crowd was Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., who DeSantis on Thursday recommended to succeed Corcoran. Diaz didn’t speak Friday, but the Hialeah Republican — who was HB 7′s Senate sponsor — has previously defended the bill.

“My assurance and my intention in this (bill) is to improve the conversations in our classrooms and our workplace, to provide those trainings, to provide those lessons, without imposing responsibility on someone who did not commit the act,” he said in March.