Kentucky is joining several states where Republican lawmakers have introduced bills to limit how race is discussed in the classroom.
A Republican lawmaker from Nicholasville on Friday pre-filed the second bill in the Kentucky General Assembly this month that would prevent the teaching of critical race theory in the state’s public schools.
“The topic has exploded in the public arena this spring—especially in K-12,” a recent article in Education Week said. Liberals and conservatives disagree whether critical race theory is a “way of understanding how American racism has shaped public policy, or a divisive discourse that pits people of color against white people,” the article said.
At issue is whether teachers can discuss the theory that racism is inherent in institutions ranging from education to law.
Critical race theory “recognizes that racism is not a bygone relic of the past, “ an article on the American Bar Association website said. “Instead, it acknowledges that the legacy of slavery, segregation, and the imposition of second-class citizenship on Black Americans and other people of color continue to permeate the social fabric of this nation.”
Legislation has been filed in more than a dozen other states and Tennessee, Texas, Arkansas, Idaho, and Oklahoma have already passed a version of the ban, a Kentucky House Majority Caucus news release said.
Chalkbeat reported that Tennessee lawmakers were galvanized in April when Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration announced a new grant program for history and civics education that prioritizes instruction on diversity, anti-racism, and the legacy of slavery. Grant information on a federal website said there is growing acknowledgment of the importance of including, in the teaching of the country’s history, both the consequences of slavery, and the significant contributions of Black Americans to our society.
The Kentucky House Majority Caucus news release about one of the Kentucky bills said BR 60 comes just weeks after the Biden administration announced the grant program that the release said prioritizes instruction on “systemic racism” and promotes an ambitious “whole-of-government equity agenda.”
Julian Vasquez Heilig, the Dean of the University of Kentucky College of Education, has researched critical race theory. In 2012, he wrote in the Harvard Educational Review that Texas social studies standards appeared to adequately address race while at the same time marginalizing it—the “illusion of inclusion.”
“Why would we want to cancel conversations about race in our history?” Heilig said on a podcast hosted by Democratic state Sen. Gerald Neal of Louisville before the bills were filed in Kentucky.
“To ban the theory, I don’t think is patriotic,” said Heilig. “I don’t think it supports ideals of freedom of speech.”
State Rep. Matt Lockett, R-Nicholasville, and State Rep. Jennifer Henson Decker, R- Waddy, prefiled BR 69 for the 2022 legislative session which would apply to curriculum used in kindergarten through 12th grade, as well as the state’s public colleges and universities.
“Those who subscribe to critical race theory are more interested in labeling people, dividing them into categories, and pitting them against each other than they are actually addressing important issues like racism,” Lockett said in a statement announcing the legislation.
“At the heart of this is a simple question: should taxpayer resources be used to promote a political narrative that teaches one person is inherently superior to another?” said Lockett. “The language of BR 69 speaks clearly that the people of Kentucky stand united against this attempt to use our education system to indoctrinate our children.”
Lockett’s bill specifically prohibits teaching that: One race, sex, or religion is inherently superior to another race, sex, or religion; an individual, by virtue of his or her race, sex, or religion, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously; an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race, sex, or religion; members of one race, sex, or religion cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race, sex, or religion; an individual’s moral character is determined by his or her race or sex.
Under the proposed legislation, school district employees would be subject to disciplinary action if they violated the law and districts could be fined.
State Rep. Joe Fischer, R-Fort Thomas, drew criticism when he filed similar legislation -- BR 60 -- earlier this month that would limit the teaching of systemic racism in Kentucky public schools.
Fischer prefiled his bill at the request of constituents who contacted him after a proposal to include critical race theory in curriculum for the 2021-2022 school year at Highlands High School in northern Kentucky was considered, a news release from the state House Majority Caucus said. The proposal was rejected.
Gov. Andy Beshear was asked about Fischer’s legislation during a daily news conference last week.
“I think once you start legislating what can and can not be taught in Kentucky schools, especially in the framework of politics, it gets really dangerous,” Beshear said.
Schools should have “open and real dialogue,” Beshear said.
Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass, in regard to both prefiled Kentucky bills banning the topic, said he opposed efforts to limit free speech and the exchange of ideas in classrooms.
Glass said Kentucky’s public schools have a moral commitment to serve every child and family and that students come to schools with a variety of different backgrounds and experiences.
“I also oppose state-level and politically-driven efforts to micromanage our local classroom teachers,” Glass said. “Discussing difficult issues is how we prepare our students to be citizens in our democratic republic and our state has a long tradition of empowering our local educators to make the best decisions for their students. I am disappointed to see efforts to limit the free exchange of ideas enshrined in our Constitution and big-government over-reach into local classrooms emerge from our state legislators.”
Jessica Fletcher, a spokeswoman for the Prichard Conmittee for Academic Excellence, said that her group has concerns about the legislation in its current form.
“Continuing to improve our instructional environment so that it reflects the complexities of current events and their historical context is critical, and should include discussions of race and racial justice,” she said.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations , the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, on Friday condemned the efforts in Kentucky’s legislature to ban anti-racism teaching.
“It is vital that our nation’s young people learn about systemic anti-Black racism and the negative impact it has on our entire society,” CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper said in a statement. “Important discussions about racism, white privilege and white supremacy have been avoided for too long, to the detriment of minority communities and our nation’s stated values.”
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R- Kentucky, was criticized last month when he said he discourages schools from teaching the 1619 Project. The 1619 Project is a journalism project developed by the New York Times which aims to properly frame the consequences of slavery and the contributions Black people have made to the United States.