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New College plaintiff reacts to judge’s order

Written by on Thursday, November 9, 2023

Refusal to block law means uncertainty in classrooms, professor says.

By Emy McGuire

Original Air Date: Nov. 8, 2023

Host: A federal judge in Tallahassee on Friday refused to issue a preliminary injunction against a Florida law that prohibits the teaching of certain topics in general education classes at state colleges and universities. WSLR News reporter Emy McGuire has this update.

Emy McGuire: In the wake of Senate Bill 266, which limits what can be taught in university classrooms in Florida, six students and faculty members at New College of Florida, plus an alumni association, have sued the state and the college. SB266 comes at a time when New College of Florida is in a period of political upheaval. As part of their lawsuit, the three students and three professors filed an injunction to block SB266, asserting that “the laws at issue directly censor what can be taught in class and threaten to defund their teaching and scholarship in the event they promote forbidden viewpoints.” Sarah Hernandez, Associate Professor of Sociology & Caribbean and Latin American Studies, is among the plaintiffs. She pointed out that it is the vagueness of the senate bill that is causing most of the anxiety among professors.

Sarah Hernandez, Associate Professor of Sociology & Caribbean and Latin American Studies at New College of Florida

Hernandez: That certainly creates a lot of anxiety. Most people, I would imagine, … [do] not want to be breaking the law, and if I teach this, am I breaking the law? In a way, they say yes, and in another way they say no. They say you can teach it at the intermediate level, but not at the introductory level, and what does that mean?

EM: In his order denying the injunction, Judge Mark E. Walker acknowledged the uncertainty created by the law. “When, for instance, is a professor’s discussion of a significant historical event to be deemed a ‘distortion’ of that event? Defendants assert the answer is simple — a distortion of significant historical events is self-evident, or, perhaps, falls outside of whatever the Florida Legislature and other state lawmakers decide the proper view of history ought to be. But how are professors to determine what is self-evident when we cannot even agree if the right way to teach American history includes teaching that there was an upside to slavery for enslaved people?”

Sarah Hernandez’s main concerns lie with her students and how these curriculum issues affect their education.

Hernandez: It’s not about me actually, it’s about the students. What happens is that .. the students, before would have been able to take this course to satisfy general education requirements. Now they cannot, because the state deems the content of this course should not count towards a general requirement course.

EM: Judge Walker denied the injunction due to lack of legal standing. Walker has expressed understanding that the law and his denial may be frustrating, but maintains that the plaintiffs have not shown sufficient evidence yet that they have suffered negative consequences. The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Gary Edinger, is working now to get the case to be heard at all.

This has been Emy McGuire for WSLR News. 


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