FORT MYERS, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday signed a trio of bills that he said will help Florida become the No. 1 state in the nation in terms of civic literacy.
“It’s crucial to ensure that we teach our students how to be responsible citizens,” DeSantis said during a news conference at a Fort Myers middle school. “They need to have a good working knowledge of American history, American government and the principles that underline our Constitution and Bill of Rights.”
Included in the three bills — HB 5, HB 233 and SB 1108 — is a provision that will create a Portraits and Patriotism Library. The purpose, DeSantis said, is to make sure students learn about “real patriots” who came to America after fleeing communist and socialist regimes in Cuba, Nicaragua and Vietnam.
HB 233 will prohibit the State Board of Education from shielding students, staff and faculty from certain speech and requires the State Board of Education to conduct an annual assessment on intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity.
SB 1108 will require state college and university students to take both a civic literacy course and a civic literacy assessment as a graduation requirement.
HB 5 requires that the Florida Department of Education create an integrated K-12 civic education curriculum that includes an understanding of citizens’ shared rights and responsibilities under the Constitution and Bill of Rights, according to a news release. It also further expands required instruction in high school to include a comparative discussion of political ideologies.
At Tuesday’s news conference, DeSantis also attacked universities, saying that the institutions are intellectually repressive environments.
“You have orthodoxies that are promoted, and other viewpoints are shunned or even suppressed,” DeSantis said. “We don’t want that in Florida, you need to have a true contest of ideas, students should not be shielded from ideas and we want robust First Amendment speech on our college and university campuses.”
DeSantis has been under fire for his focus on Florida’s curriculum after he backed the Florida Board of Education’s decision earlier this month to ban the teaching of “critical race theory” in Florida classrooms. Critics said it is an attempt to whitewash history and keep conversations about race out of schools.
Andrew Spar, head of the Florida Education Association, said the proposed change was political and unnecessary because critical race theory is not taught in Florida schools.