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DeSantis pushes bill targeting critical race theory in schools

Under the proposal, parents would be allowed to sue school districts to aid enforcement of Florida's CRT ban.
Image: Ron DeSantis
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during an event at the Grand Beach Hotel Surfside on Aug. 10, 2021 in Surfside, Fla.Joe Raedle / Getty Images file

Editor’s Note (May 2, 2022, 11:21 a.m. ET): NBC News has determined that a section about Gov. DeSantis’s comments on woke ideology in an earlier version of this article was not properly attributed to its original source and did not meet our standards for original material. The section has been removed from the article.

WASHINGTON — Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is pushing a new bill that would allow parents to sue school districts if their children are taught critical race theory in classrooms, which mirrors how Texas' abortion ban is enforced.

DeSantis announced the "Stop W.O.K.E. Act" in Wildwood, Florida on Wednesday, alongside state Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez and Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran. "Our legislation will defend any money for K-12 going to CRT consultants," the governor said. "No taxpayer dollars should be used to teach our kids to hate our country or hate each other."

Chris Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, also spoke at the event with DeSantis. In a tweet earlier this year, Rufo promised to make the concept of critical race theory "toxic" in the public imagination.

Under the proposed measure, parents would be granted a "private right of action" to enforce the state's ban on critical race theory in schools. The bill also takes aim at such training in companies, allowing individuals the right to sue businesses if they are forced to learn critical race theory.

There's scant evidence that critical race theory — an academic area of study that examines the modern-day impact of systemic racism in law and society — is actually being taught in Florida public schools or in any other public school system, but it has become a conservative flashpoint. CRT, as it's sometimes known, is often used as a catch-all phrase encompassing diversity trainings and other anti-racist efforts criticized by conservatives.

DeSantis' new plan comes after he directed the Florida Department of Education to ban critical race theory in schools in June.

The Florida State Board of Education unanimously voted to ban teaching ideas related to critical race theory, making it one of the largest public school systems to fall in line with conservative efforts across the country to regulate certain classroom instruction of American history.

As an example of critical race theory being pushed by educators, DeSantis cited an “Equity Toolkit” posted online by the Arizona Department of Education, which he said claimed that “babies show the first sign of racism by three months old.”

The graphic posted by the Arizona government actually cites studies, conducted by researchers in the U.S., the United Kingdom and China, which found that three month olds of all ethnicities prefer to look at the face of someone from their own ethnic group.

The bill would also let parents collect attorneys fees if they are successful with their lawsuits, DeSantis said.

"They want to tear at the fabric of our society and our culture," he said. "They want to delegitimize the founding of the country and the constitution."

At least 16 states are considering or have enacted bills that would limit how schools frame American history.