American Oversight Sues Florida Department of Education for Records Related to Gov. DeSantis’ Ongoing Attacks on Education

On Thursday, American Oversight filed a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Education for the release of public records related to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ongoing attacks on education, including documents that could provide insight into the administration’s efforts to stifle vital historical and cultural learning and shed light on the potential influence of outside groups and activists. 

The lawsuit comes at a time of increasing alarm and urgency over DeSantis’ attempts to politicize and reshape Florida’s education system. American Oversight has filed several public records requests with the Department of Education that have been met with delay, with many of the requests at issue in the lawsuit unfulfilled for months. American Oversight is represented by Thomas & LoCicero PL. 

“The DeSantis administration’s efforts to stifle classroom discussion and rewrite history are a grave threat to the education and well-being of hundreds of thousands of students, teachers, and parents in Florida,” said American Oversight Executive Director Heather Sawyer. “The Department of Education’s pattern of delayed responses to public records requests denies the public the urgent information it needs about how these suppressive measures are being crafted and implemented and about what powerful interests may be behind them, especially as they gain traction in Florida and states across the country.”

In the last year, DeSantis has spearheaded numerous attacks on public education. In particular, he has placed harsh limits on classroom instruction of American history, including the country’s struggles with racial justice and civil rights. In 2022, the governor signed the Stop WOKE Act, which used critical race theory as a guise to restrict classroom discussion of historical and systemic racism, and the Parental Rights in Education Act — also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — to prohibit teaching children about issues impacting the LGBTQ community. 

Other suppressive measures have contributed to a culture of fear and confusion, with the DeSantis administration rejecting several math textbooks, partly for containing ideas related to social-emotional learning, and schools across the state banning certain books from libraries and classrooms. In January, the Department of Education announced that it would ban the Advanced Placement African American Studies course from being taught in Florida schools, leading to public outcry about yet another attempt to whitewash history and to ensure that education conforms to right-wing ideology.

The administration’s actions have “impacted hundreds of thousands of teachers,” American Oversight wrote in its complaint. The Wall Street Journal recently noted that the new policies have generated “fear, confusion and upheaval” among instructors and administrations, especially as some of the new laws contain text “so broad that it is hard to know what is restricted.” That uncertainty has resulted in suppressed classroom discussion and ever-shortening lists of books that school libraries will risk carrying. 

At issue in the lawsuit are eight public records requests submitted by American Oversight in 2022 and 2023 seeking Department of Education officials’ and State Board of Education members’ communications with DeSantis’ office and external groups about topics like critical race theory and social-emotional learning, as well as guidance, reports, assessments, and other internal documents related to the decision to ban the AP African American Studies course. 

Some of the requests were submitted more than 10 months ago, but the Department of Education has failed to produce the requested records or provide timely responses. American Oversight finds it necessary for the court to intervene and disrupt this pattern of lengthy response delays, especially given the public’s great interest in understanding what is going on behind the scenes of such dramatic and dangerous changes.

Thursday’s complaint is available here. More information on American Oversight’s investigations into threats to education is available here.

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