RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina Republicans sent a bill Wednesday to the state's Democratic governor that would limit how teachers can discuss certain racial concepts in the classroom.
The measure aims to prohibit teachers from compelling their students to personally adopt any of 13 beliefs, but does little to nothing to prevent any of the more than 500 alleged cases of “indoctrination” that were included in a task force report that GOP Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson released earlier this month.
Even so, Republican leaders insist the bill will hold teachers accountable by shedding light on questionable classroom activities.
“This bill does not change what history can or cannot be taught. No spin or innuendo changes that. ... It simply prevents schools from endorsing discriminatory concepts,” Rep. John Torbett, a Gaston County Republican, said during a floor debate.
Moore's chamber gave the measure final legislative approval by signing off on changes the Senate made that increase the number of prohibited ideas, clarify that teachers can still discuss those concepts so long as they do not “promote” them and require public school units to inform the Department of Public Instruction and post information on its website upon request a month before providing instruction on the 13 prohibited concepts.
The latest version of the plan passed the Republican-controlled House by a 61-41 vote.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has previously criticized the measure, accusing Republicans of “injecting calculated, conspiracy-laden politics into public education.” Cooper is likely to veto the bill, and Republicans would almost assuredly lack the Democratic votes they'd need to override the governor's decision.
Critics view the bill as part of a calculated political strategy Republicans are employing in more than two dozen states to boost voter enthusiasm heading into the 2022 and 2024 elections.
Democrats, education groups and racial justice organizations also see the GOP effort as a solution to a problem that does not exist in the state. The monthslong GOP effort to unearth cases of improper teachings appears to have yielded no clear examples of circumstances that House Bill 324 would prevent, as Republicans were unable at a committee hearing and news conference last week to point to a single case that would have violated the proposed law.
“Who is doing this? Where are you getting this info? It’s a boogeyman," said Rep. Abe Jones, D-Wake. "I’d like to see a film or picture of someone standing before a group of students in North Carolina in classrooms and teaching what’s in those 13 parts.”
Still, Robinson’s task force report did highlight instances of educators accused of giving preferential treatment to pupils who agree with their racial views and teachers offering questionable class assignments, including a book called “George” about a transgender child coming to terms with gender identity and a handout that mentions former President Donald Trump in a sentence describing the term “xenophobia.”
Some Republicans associate indoctrination with the promotion of any of 13 views the bill outlines, while other party leaders like the state’s lieutenant governor have a more expansive view of the term and believe the report unquestionably proves systemic failures within the state’s public education system.
Democrats expressed concern Wednesday that the measure could stifle free speech by making educators feel unsafe when describing America's history of racism and sexism, and ongoing inequities.
“This bill encourages us to look away from our history," said Rep. Brandon Lofton, D-Mecklenburg.
North Carolina’s proposal follows a national trend of Republican-controlled legislatures moving to thwart certain ideas they associate with “critical race theory,” a framework legal scholars developed in the 1970s and 1980s that centers on the view that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions and serves to maintain the dominance of whites in society.
Eight Republican governors have signed bills or budgets into law banning the teaching of critical race theory in K-12 schools or limiting how teachers can discuss racism and sexism in the classroom. Similar bills have been introduced or other steps have been taken in 19 additional states, according to an Education Week analysis.
Republicans across the country are using “critical race theory” and “indoctrination” as catchall phrases to describe racial concepts they find objectionable, including white privilege, systemic inequality and inherent bias.
The movement against the theory gained traction last year when Trump signed an executive order barring federal contractors from conducting racial sensitivity trainings after a conservative activist went on Fox News to urge the former president to do so. Several state lawmakers subsequently inserted language from Trump’s now-defunct executive order into their own bills.
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Anderson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.