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Lawsuits & Litigation

Federal Judge: Florida Educators, Students May File Lawsuit Against “Stop WOKE Act”

— July 8, 2022

While the judge dismissed several of the lawsuit’s claims, he will allow the plaintiffs to file a constitutional challenge against state-imposed restrictions on the teaching of critical race theory in Florida schools and colleges.

A federal judge will allow a Florida professor, two teachers, and a student to continue their lawsuit against a recently passed state law that restricts how race-related theories can be taught in classrooms and workplace training.

According to CBS News, Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker rejected parts of a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

The complaint, adds CBS, is effectively a constitutional challenge to the so-called “Stop WOKE Act.”

However, Walker did agree to dismiss the claims presented by the president of a consulting firm that provides diversity training.

Walker also removed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as a defendant.

In his 23-page ruling, Walker allowed Robert Castellano—an associate professor of history at the University of Central Florida—to pursue individual claims against the state university system’s Board of Governors.

Former Congressman Ron DeSantis in 2017. Image via Flickr/user:Gage Skidmore (CCA-BY-2.0).

He also allowed teachers Donald Falls and Jill Harper, as well as an incoming kindergarten student identified only by the initials ‘R.M.J.,’ to pursue claims against the Florida Board of Education.

Collectively, the plaintiffs filed the lawsuit on April 22, shortly after Gov. DeSantis signed H.B.-7 into law.

They argue that the Stop WOKE Act violates the constitutional rights of educators and students alike.

CBS News reports that the plaintiffs also challenged the Florida Board of Education’s decision to ban the teaching of critical race theory in public schools.

Critical race theory—a recent hot-point for conservatives—teaches that racism is embedded in American society and institutions of authority.

While critical race theory has been predominately taught at the university level, some conservatives allege that it has also been used to “indoctrinate” younger students.

According to CBS, the state’s motion to dismiss specifically alleged that the plaintiffs lacked the legal standing necessary to bring a lawsuit.

Florida attorneys argued, in part, that the plaintiffs could not demonstrate they had sustained any legally actionable “injuries” as a result of the Stop WOKE Act.

Nevertheless, Walker recognized that the plaintiffs had established standing, if only by the “thinnest of reeds.”

“To survive further stages of this litigation with more demanding burdens of proof, plaintiffs must supplement the record with evidence supporting standing as this case progresses,” Walker wrote in his ruling.

Despite his apparent skepticism of the claim, Walker did rebuke Florida’s own attorneys, criticizing arguments that Castellano, Falls, and Harper lacked standing just because the Board of Governors and Board of Education could not directly punish plaintiffs for violating the law.

“Without question, a defendant can chill speech even if it lacks the power to punish,” Walker wrote. “For example, a defendant could threaten to refer the plaintiff to an entity that has the power to punish the plaintiff. Or a defendant could imply that they will use their official powers – whatever they may be – to retaliate against the plaintiff for speaking. Thus, while defendants raise a relevant consideration, the boards’ lack of authority to directly punish is hardly decisive. At this stage, that makes all the difference. The teachers allege that the boards can pressure their institutions to punish them for speaking. At the motion to dismiss stage, that’s enough.”

Three businesses have also filed their own lawsuit against the Stop WOKE Act, with their claims pending in Walker’s court.


Florida educators, student allowed to challenge so-called “Stop WOKE Act”

UCF professor, 3 others can pursue lawsuit against ‘Stop WOKE Act’

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