Right-Wing Attacks on Education and Student Expression

Led by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, conservatives and Republican state leaders are attempting to prevent students from learning about race or gender through censorship, restrictions, and right-wing indoctrination.

Conservative political leaders across the country are launching attacks on public education by limiting what instructors can teach about racism and gender, demonizing and restricting the rights of LGBTQ students and teachers, and banning books that they deem “inappropriate.” American Oversight is using public records to investigate these egregious attempts to politicize, censor, and weaken public education, from early elementary school through higher education. 

Leading the charge is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has all but declared war against students of color and gay and transgender students in his home state. In 2022, DeSantis signed the Stop WOKE Act, which prohibited the teaching of certain concepts that could make students feel “guilt, anguish, or any other forms of psychological distress” because of their race or national origin, along with other vague restrictions that serve to stifle discussion of racial injustice. He also signed the Parental Rights in Education Act — also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — which banned teaching children about gender or sexual identity. Other DeSantis-supported laws include those banning transgender female student athletes from playing on girls’ and women’s teams and requiring that books available in classrooms go through an extra layer of review, actions that have been echoed by conservative leaders with similar agendas in other states

In January 2023, DeSantis said he would reject a proposed Advanced Placement African American Studies course for including content such as “intersectionality and activism” and “Black Queer studies.” The College Board later removed many of the criticized contemporary Black authors and content from its required curriculum nationwide, though asserting that the changes were not in response to political pressure from Florida. DeSantis and other conservative leaders have also attacked the concept of social-emotional learning

The Florida governor has also targeted higher education, including by working to turn New College of Florida, a progressive public college, into a conservative institution. After replacing the school’s board of trustees with conservative allies — including prominent anti-critical race theory activist Christopher Rufo — the new trustees appointed DeSantis’ former education commissioner as the college’s president. DeSantis has also expressed his intent to ban diversity, equity and inclusion programs at public universities in the state; his newly appointed trustees at New College voted to scrap the school’s DEI programs in February. Republican leaders have also targeted DEI programs in other conservative states, including in Texas

Across the country, states are passing measures to restrict the rights of students, drum up political support among aggrieved conservative parents, and whitewash and deteriorate public education, ultimately shoring up school choice movements. Often under the false banner of “parents’ rights,” and taking cues from far-right groups like Moms for Liberty and the Family Research Council, these efforts threaten to leave underrepresented minorities behind and bring classrooms into the arena of right-wing culture wars.  

American Oversight is investigating these and a variety of other serious affronts to the civil rights or education of students in Florida and elsewhere. We have filed records requests for emails between state Education Department officials and far-right groups, as well as for communications about school policies, curricula, and related issues. We have also submitted requests to sheriff departments in Florida for communications with Moms for Liberty about enforcing book bans, and asked for records from states that opposed President Biden’s student debt-relief plan. We’re also investigating the anti-critical race theory stunt pulled by Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

Updates

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

March 16, 2023
The lawsuit comes at a time of increasing alarm and urgency over attempts to politicize and reshape Florida’s education system.

Judge Grants American Oversight’s Request for Release of Virginia Governor’s ‘Divisive Topics’ Tip Line Records

January 25, 2023
On Wednesday, the court granted American Oversight’s petition to require the Gov. Youngkin's office to release records related to his “inherently divisive concepts” tip line. 

American Oversight Receives Supplemental Response in Lawsuit Over Youngkin’s ‘Inherently Divisive Concepts’ Tip Line

November 23, 2022
The governor’s office said it had no records responsive to our request for emails sent in response to submissions — or for records detailing the policies and procedures governing the tip line.

In the Documents: Virginia Department of Education Emails about Anti-Critical Race Theory Executive Order

October 3, 2022
Records obtained by American Oversight show state officials fielding complaints from right-wing activists, as well as emails illustrating the confusion brought by the Gov. Youngkin’s ill-defined executive order.

Lawsuit Seeks Records of Gov. Youngkin’s Controversial Teacher Tip Line

August 8, 2022
On Monday, American Oversight and Ballard Spahr law firm filed a lawsuit against Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin for the release of records related to his “inherently divisive concepts” tip line.
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Related Documents

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Records Request to Florida DOE for Communications with the Governor’s Office

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Public Records Request to Indian River County, Fla., Regarding Communications with Moms for Liberty

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Records Request to Florida Department of Education Regarding Email Communications with Right-Wing Education Pressure Groups

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December 19, 2022

Records Request to Virginia Department of Education Regarding Email Communications Concerning History Curriculum

Virginia Department of Education
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Records Request to Virginia Department of Education Regarding Policy Assessments Concerning History Curriculum

Virginia Department of Education
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July 26, 2022

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May 4, 2022

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