OPINION: Hillsborough County school district should comply with Stop W.O.K.E. law

The school district should change the wording of its racial equity policy so that it does not go against state laws. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

The Hillsborough County School Board discussed making changes to its racial equity policy in a Jan. 17 workshop, as the wording violates SB 148, or the “Stop W.O.K.E.” law. 

While SB 148 is needlessly censoring these words, it’s still important for the school board to obey it and change the wording. Not doing so leaves them open to legal battles that could be even more harmful to the district in the long run.

The issues with the racial equity policy are in regard to lines nine through 15 addressing “institutional racism” and how the school district plans to combat the issues that stem from it. 

“This policy confronts the institutional racism that results in predictably lower academic achievement for students of color than for their white peers,” states the first page of the policy.

The Florida Department of Education sent Hillsborough Superintendent Addison Davis a letter on Nov. 18, informing him and the rest of the school board that this language is unacceptable under SB 148.

The Stop W.O.K.E. Act also grants parents the right to pursue litigation against school officials who don’t comply. Therefore, refusing to change this language leaves the district open to lawsuits and even removal of the board members. 

The intentions behind the policy are not being changed, only the wording. The board members are free to combat these issues as they see fit, and this is why many of them are willing to change the wording.

“I don’t want us to get hyper-focused on the words as much as our actions. That’s what matters. How we behave, and in the end, how we determine how people are going to be treated,” said board member Stacy Hahn, as reported in a Jan. 18 article by WUSF.

Davis agreed. While he recommended changing the wording, he said that the board had no plans of changing its current trajectory regarding racial equity.

However, several of the board members disagree and want to push back against the state and keep the wording as it is. 

“There are some things that you can’t eliminate,” board member Henry Washington said.

If the wording is kept, it puts board members at risk of losing their jobs and, therefore, losing their positions to actually combat this issue in the schools. 

The board finally decided during their workshop to have a public meeting and let the community help decide the best course of action. No date for this meeting was set. 

While proponents of the Stop W.O.K.E. Act are attempting to censor the Hillsborough School District’s racial equity policy for their own agenda, the school board should still change the wording. It’s a necessary evil to protect the board members’ positions against litigation and ensure they can continue to push for racial equity in schools beyond the written word.