New law could transform anti-bias training on Florida campuses

As Thursday marks the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the federal law known as Title IX to prohibit gender discrimination in educational institutions, a new Florida law is set to change the way schools can train employees to comply with Title IX.

School districts, colleges and universities are required to have at least one employee who is responsible for coordinating schools’ compliance with Title IX, according to the US Department of Education.

In higher education, it is not uncommon for Title IX facilitators to conduct training exercises dealing with concepts related to discrimination of employees and others on campus.

Brett Sokolow, president of the Association of Title IX Administrators, told the News Service of Florida last month that many such trainings “focus on anti-bias content.”

“The purpose of these trainings is to educate participants on how racism and other forms of bigotry can be common in academia, how to be allies of those affected by prejudice, how to intervene in situations of hate speech or acts, and how to be part of efforts to make colleges more inclusive and diverse,” said Sokolow, an attorney.

But the types of training exercises Title IX coordinators can conduct may change when new state law takes effect next week.

The law (HB 7), passed by the state Legislature this spring and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in April, will restrict how certain race-related issues can be taught in schools and workplace training sessions. of work. The new law, which is due to come into force on July 1, specifically targets training and education that would tell students and employees that they are “unknowingly” discriminating.

The law was one of DeSantis’ top legislative priorities this year, with the governor touting it as a way to combat critical race theory in the classroom and workplace — though the law doesn’t specifically mention critical race theory, which is based on the premise that racism is embedded in American institutions. DeSantis dubbed the legislation the “Stop Wrongs To Our Kids and Employees Act” or Stop WOKE Act.

The law could result in a high price for universities that violate it. A “justified violation” of the law’s restrictions would render institutions ineligible for what is known as performance funding.

Performance funding can total tens of millions of dollars for individual universities. For example, in the 2021-2022 school year, Florida Gulf Coast University received $24.2 million in funding based on achieving a set of performance measures.

The school recently scrapped a practice drill that likely would have violated the new law.

As the FGCU searches for a successor to outgoing university president Michael Martin, the university last month canceled a planned “anti-bias training” that was to be given to its presidential search advisory committee.

The training session was originally scheduled for early to mid-July. The university’s Title IX coordinator, Precious Gunter, who has been assigned to administer the training, gave brief details to the committee at its inaugural meeting on April 13.

“We will be doing full training at a later date, specifically around unconscious and implicit biases. So I’m not going to dwell too much on that today. But just know that you will see me again and we will do a presentation on implicit bias,” Gunter told the committee.

That same day, the News Service asked a university spokeswoman if the new law would impact the school’s ability to deliver the training. The spokeswoman referred the question to the Board of Governors of the State University System, which did not provide an answer.

When the FGCU search committee held a second meeting on May 23, the training had been removed from the panel’s schedule. Asked again if the anti-bias training was canceled due to the law, the university spokeswoman told the news service that the training was offered by the recruitment company hired by the FGCU and had been removed. for cost reasons.

“The anti-bias training was originally offered by AGB Search as an add-on to its services, and it would require an additional fee on top of the agreed contract cost. The university subsequently requested that the training be removed from the schedule,” said FGCU spokeswoman Pamela McCabe in a May 26 email.

A copy of the university’s contract with AGB Search obtained by the News Service stated that an anti-bias “workshop” would cost the university $3,000.

Meanwhile, the Board of Governors is due to meet on June 30 to consider the first steps in passing regulations to implement the new law. The rules, titled “Prohibition of Discrimination in Academic Training or Education,” would set out procedures for handling violations and complaints.

While the new law will almost certainly change how anti-bias drills and similar training sessions can be conducted, Sokolow said institutions could still hold training drills that aren’t against the law. .

“Outside of these no-go areas, there are a ton of opportunities to deliver diversity and inclusion training that can be very effective. So nothing in Florida law prevents diversity training, to equity and inclusion in general, but employers should be careful that any training provided does not focus on topics prohibited by Florida There is a lot to be said and learned about racism/bigotry without having to address the moral superiority or inferiority of a particular class of protected persons, or to insist on the idea of ​​inherent racism, guilt or responsibility for historical hatred, slavery and other acts of discrimination,” Sokolow said in an email.

Two federal lawsuits challenging the new law, filed by attorneys representing separate groups of individuals and businesses, are pending.

U.S. District Chief Judge Mark Walker this week heard arguments in the lawsuit brought by individuals including a college professor. Plaintiffs in the case alleged that the law would “chill discussions of race”, restrict teachers’ speech and students’ right to access information. The plaintiffs also argued that the measure would restrict employer speech by cracking down on training exercises that employers can conduct.

Walker said he could rule this week on the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction to block the law.

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