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Bill advances to outlaw teaching of Critical Race Theory

The exclusive teaching of Critical Race Theory in public school classrooms would be outlawed under a bill making its way through the N.C. Senate.

The Senate Education Committee on Wednesday took up a proposed committee substitute for House Bill 324, a measure that passed the House on May 12 in a 66-48 party-line vote.

While the bill does not address Critical Race Theory directly, it would prohibit the exclusive teaching of the theory in public school classrooms. The committee considered the bill for discussion only and did not take a vote.

“Children must learn about our state’s racial past and all of its ugliness, from the 1898 Wilmington massacre to Jim Crow,”  Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said at a news conference prior to the committee meeting. “But students must not be forced to adopt an ideology that is separate and distinct from history; an ideology that attacks ‘the very foundations of the liberal order,’ and that exalts ‘present discrimination’ — so long as it’s against the right people — as ‘antiracist.’”

Berger said he opposes Critical Race Theory and “will combat it with everything that I have, because I believe the doctrine undoes the framework that produced the most successful ongoing experiment in self-government in the history of mankind … whether you acknowledge it or not, this doctrine seeks to recast the foundational principles of American society. We must not let that happen.”

The new version of H.B. 324 mirrors the wording and intent of the original House version, prohibiting public schools from teaching that one race or sex is inherently superior to the other. It affirms that “students, teachers, administrators, and other school employees respect the dignity of others, acknowledge the right of others to express differing opinions, and foster and defend intellectual honesty, freedom of inquiry and instruction, and freedom of speech and association, and that the public schools of North Carolina employ teaching methods and procedures to further that intent.”

The bill also creates a new accountability mechanism that requires public school districts to notify the Department of Public Instruction and make public any plans to teach Critical Race Theory or hiring speakers who actively promote the theory or have in the past.

During the committee meeting, members heard from Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, a Republican, who shared that his high-school education in the 1980s didn’t whitewash American’s history on race but presented the full picture in describing how Americans from all walks of life have overcome injustice together.

“Students should be taught how to think, not what to think,” said Robinson, who in March established a task force on indoctrination and bias in public school classrooms. “I want to make one thing clear: The issue of indoctrination in our classrooms is real. It’s not some figment of somebody’s imagination. It’s happening all across the state, unfortunately.”

Members also heard from parents such as Ashley Seshul, a mother from Wake County who expressed concern about school systems focusing on race and gender to the detriment of basic instruction.

“There are many reasons we need a bill for our schools regarding these issues,” Seshul said. “Most importantly, we are coming out of a pandemic, and public schools cannot afford to spend time on tasks that take focus away from academics … teachers need to be focused on reading, writing, and math, not on political theories and ideologies.”

Democrats on the committee claimed the bill was unnecessary because indoctrination in public school classrooms is not a problem.

“This bill is founded on the unfounded fear of Critical Race Theory,” said Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake. “This bill attempts to do away with so-called Critical Race Theory, but what I fear it really does away with is critical thinking in our classrooms. Teachers, ultimately, should be given discretion to foster students’ intellectual independence.”

Lawmakers are moving anti-Critical Race Theory legislation as local school boards are addressing the issue across the state. On July 12, the Cabarrus County School Board passed a non-discrimination resolution that mirrors the language of H.B. 324. The Johnston County School Board is considering a similar resolution.

In June, the Durham City Council unanimously voted to support the teaching of Critical Race Theory in public schools, while Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools recently paid $25,000 for a virtual presentation from Ibram X. Kendi, one of the nation’s top proponents of Critical Race Theory.

While Republicans are pushing forward H.B. 324, leadership announced a plan to introduce a constitutional amendment enshrining the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into the state’s foundational document. If approved by a 30-vote majority in the Senate and 72-vote majority in the House, the proposed amendment would go on the ballot for the 2022 primary. It would specify that “the state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”