OPINION: DeSantis is the clickbait king of the year

The legislation DeSantis has passed this year served the people only as clickworthy headlines. ORACLE PHOTO/MARCELENE PILCHER

With the Florida gubernatorial election approaching on Nov. 8, Gov. Ron DeSantis made education a hot-button issue on this year’s campaign trail.

“The DeSantis Education Agenda is a student-first, parent-centered initiative focused on setting Florida’s children up for success, ensuring parental rights in education, and combating the woke agenda from infiltrating public schools,” DeSantis’ education agenda said.

Looking past the handouts and disingenuous campaign videos to line items, the main impact of DeSantis’ 2022 legislation is making great headlines. 

March’s HB 1557 — also known as the “Parental Rights in Education” or “Don’t Say Gay” bill, depending on which news outlets you watch — was DeSantis’ most notorious piece of legislation this year. It sparked clapback campaigns by New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Human Rights Campaign, among others.


In DeSantis’ March 28 tweet publicizing the bill, Leon County mother January Littlejohn shared that schools “manipulated her daughter into transitioning” when the 13-year-old’s school asked for the child’s preferred bathroom and pronouns without alerting the parents.

“Her [Littlejohn] daughter was in school up in Leon County, and some of the people at school decided that her daughter was really a boy and wanted to identify as a boy,” DeSantis said in Palm Beach County on March 22. “So they changed her name. They changed her quote pronouns. They did these things without telling the mother, much less getting the mother’s consent.”

In reality, schools are not forcing anyone to transition, and both the governor and Littlejohn are being deceptive about her situation with Leon County schools.

A series of emails show that Littlejohn emailed school officials first in August 2020 to alert them that her child was nonbinary and make them aware of the child’s preferred pronouns, according to CNN

“She would like to go by the new name [redacted] and prefers the pronouns they/them. We have not changed her name at home yet, but I told her if she wants to go by the name [redacted] with her teachers, I won’t stop her,” Littlejohn wrote.

In a follow-up email, the teacher asked whether Littlejohn wants the change to be shared with the faculty. Littlejohn said, “whatever you think is best” and added that the child can “handle it” and “take the lead on this.”

The superintendent of Leon County Schools Rocky Hanna spoke to WFSU on the topic and explained that DeSantis’ claims of student indoctrination are inflated.

“We had a guide to help teachers and administrators have conversations and protect and support children who came to them that were battling gender identity issues,” Hanna said.

“I think I did a survey and there were five support plans out of 30,000 students. But if you’re reading the media you’d think this was commonplace in our classrooms and it’s simply not the truth.”  

The verbiage in the bill itself is extremely vague. The only clear and enforceable line item in the bill is “Prohibits classroom discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.” That’s a bit lackluster compared to DeSantis’ sensational advertising campaign for the bill.

DeSantis also made a circus out of the April 22 HB 7, or “Stop W.O.K.E. Act.”

In his handout regarding the bill, DeSantis promised that the stop W.O.K.E. (Wrongdoings to Our Kids and Employees) Act will prohibit the teaching of critical race theory (CRT) in public schools and work environments, and prevent public universities from hiring “woke CRT consultants.”

This bill was created to fight a straw man. CRT is not being taught in K-12 schools, nor is it taught in the workplace. It’s not even commonly taught at universities.

“I’ve taught race and ethnic relations as an undergrad course at USF probably over 20 times in the 16 years I’ve been in sociology at USF. I’ve probably mentioned critical race theory once or twice ever in my class,” associate professor of sociology Will Tyson said in a May 2021 interview with The Oracle. 

“In general, within sociology, it’s a topic your top scholars in race write about and are familiar with. It’s not something that’s being taught to third-graders.”

It becomes clear that this bill is nothing more than a headline when you look at the line items. 

It makes a list of eight assertions that a public school or workplace can be sued for making, including “Such virtues as merit, excellence, hard work, fairness, neutrality, objectivity and racial colorblindness are racist;” as well as, “Members of one race or sex are morally superior to another.” 

Not only are these not part of standard diversity training, they’re not common leftist talking points.

Clickbait works. Google Trends searches for DeSantis’ name spiked after the signing of HB 7 in late April. So did searches for “critical race theory.” HB 1557 spurred clapback from large organizations like The Trevor Project. PR stunts like DeSantis sending migrants to Martha’s Vineyard and the Intellectual Diversity Survey served no purpose outside of making great headlines and cost Floridians thousands in taxpayer dollars.

DeSantis’ reelection campaign has been based on PR stunts and hollow legislation.