(TALLAHASSEE)— – PEN America today sharply criticized passage by the Florida Senate of a bill targeting college-level teacher preparation programs, saying it would “muzzle” professors, curriculum, and classroom discussion of critical issues like race and gender while censoring diversity in teacher training.

House bill 1291, which the Florida Senate passed Wednesday night on a 28-21 vote, includes discriminatory, vague prohibitions in teacher education programs, such as one against teaching “identity politics.” Another incorporates the Stop WOKE Act passed in 2022, which has been blocked in higher education and in workplaces. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals called the law  “poison” and said it violated the First Amendment.

Organizations and advocates have urged lawmakers to oppose the bill, saying it undermines academic freedom and endangers the quality of K-12 education.

In response, Katie Blankenship, director of PEN America Florida, said: “HB 1291 is nothing but an educational gag order that muzzles professors on ideas and concepts at both public and private universities, jeopardizing the integrity of higher education and the quality of K-12 instruction. Under this bill, professors would be prohibited from teaching future K-12 teachers anything related to “systemic racism” or “identity politics” – terms that the bill itself fails to define. They would also be prohibited from teaching about ”systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege” and even acknowledging their existence in America. We should not be restricting education, especially on issues that impact Floridians and the history of our communities.”

“HB 1291 is already set up for failure,” said Blankenship. “Every concept banned under the Stop WOKE Act is directly incorporated into this bill. However, a federal judge has already blocked that law. We should not be surprised when this bill is met with similar legal action. Florida needs teachers who are fully prepared to engage in their profession. This bill only weakens our public education system at a time of dire teacher shortages and fails to equip future teachers with the training and skills necessary to succeed.”

She added: “These discriminatory practices have already failed, and taxpayers are footing the bill. Florida should be a beacon of robust education that embraces our diversity of thought and background.”

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], (201) 247-5057