State Senate approves bill to curb what can be taught in schools about America’s racial past

Senate leader Phil Berger

The State Senate on Thursday approved House Bill 324, which critics say will restrict what can be taught about the nation’s racial history in North Carolina’s K-12 classrooms.

The controversial bill was approved on a 25-17 party-line vote. Republicans supported the GOP-backed bill and Democrats voted against it.

The bill is now headed back to the House for concurrence. The House approved an earlier version of HB 324 in May and will consider Senate revisions before it’s sent to Gov. Roy Cooper, who is expected to veto the bill.

Echoing remarks he made earlier this week, Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican from Rockingham, said HB 324 is needed to ensure teachers aren’t using their positions to “indoctrinate” students with liberal political ideology.

Berger said opponents are mischaracterizing the bill, which prohibits 13 concepts he deems discriminatory.

“I have yet to hear anyone say that public schools should force students to believe in one of those discriminatory concepts,” Berger said.

As presently drafted, HB 324 would ban the following concepts from being discussed in public school classrooms:

  • One race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex.
  • An individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive.
  • An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex.
  • An individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex.
  • An individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.
  • Any individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress.
  • A meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist.
  • The United States was created by members of a particular race or sex for the purpose of oppressing members of another race or sex.
  • The United States government should be violently overthrown.
  • Particular character traits, values, moral or ethical codes, privileges, or beliefs should be ascribed to a race or sex, or to an individual because of the individual’s race or sex.
  • The rule of law does not exist, but instead is a series of power relationships and struggles among racial or other groups.
  • All Americans are not created equal and are not endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
  • Governments should deny to any person within the government’s jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.

Berger said the bill also addresses concerns about Critical Race Theory, which parents in mostly GOP-controlled counties complain has infiltrated classrooms.

Educators contend that the obscure academic discipline that examines how American racism has shaped law and public policy isn’t being taught in K-12 classrooms.

Berger disagrees.

“Try to convince the thousands of parents who are showing up at school board meetings around the state,” Berger said. “Are they just making up what they are talking about.”

Sen. Mike Woodard

Sen. Mike Woodard, a Democrat from Durham, said it’s important to teach children the truth about America’s past, including the painful parts.

“Our country is the greatest in the history of the world,” Woodard said. “Yet, we must deal with the pain, the trauma from our distant past.”

Woodard said he worries that literary and musical masterpieces by Black authors and musicians would be banned from schools if HB 324 becomes law. He is also concerned about who gets to decide when lessons cross the line into indoctrination.

“And who decides what action is to be taken if indoctrination is found?” Woodard asked. “The bill is silent on this critical question.”

Chanel Stevens, executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina immediately issued a statement critical of the Senate action.

“Unfortunately, North Carolina lawmakers are responding to calls for racial justice with flagrant attempts to interfere with how teachers discuss and teach about power, race, and gender identity in the classroom,” Stevens said. “Our students deserve a comprehensive education that presents as many voices, theories, and ideas as possible.”

Sen. Natalie Murdock, a Democrat from Durham, told Policy Watch that HB 324 has distracted from more serious issues such as school funding.

“The Leandro case shows that we’re failing our students,” Murdock said. “The state Constitution says that we need to provide children with a sound, basic education but we need to give our teachers and administrators the resources to do that, so we need to spend our time on figuring out how to better fund our schools

Murdock is referring to the state’s landmark school funding case filed in 1994 by low-wealth school districts to get more state funding. 

This summer, State Superior Court Judge David Lee, the judge overseeing the case, warned lawmakers that he would take action if they did not begin to fund a remedial plan that calls for $5.6 billion in new education spending by 2028. 

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