Story by David Beard, The Dominion Post
The Senate’s Anti-Racism Act – commonly called the anti-CRT bill – cleared its first House of Delegates hurdle on Monday, winning approval in the Education Committee.
It’s the same bill that narrowly missed passing both houses on the last day of last year’s session, when Senate President Craig Blair declared the House-amended version approved just two seconds after the closing bell, according to the clock on the Senate video.
This year, the Senate suspended its rules on opening day to pass it 30-2 without any committee consideration.
The bill says that a school district, a public charter school, the state Board of Education, the Department of Education, and any employee of those entities, within the scope of employment, “may not require or otherwise compel a student, teacher, administrator, or other employee to affirm, adopt, or adhere to” a list of concepts.
Those concepts are:
- One race is inherently, morally, or intellectually superior to another race
- An individual, by virtue of the individual’s race, is inherently racist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously;
- An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of the individual’s race;
- An individual’s moral character is determined by the individual’s race;
- An individual, by virtue of the individual’s race, bears responsibility for actions committed by other members of the same race.
The bill says nothing prohibits discussion of these topics, or race and its impact on historical or current events in the classroom. It provides for a complaint process for any student, parent or guardian of a student, or employee who believes the act has been violated.
The bill that almost passed last year and is back this is a significantly scaled-down version of what originally came out of last year’s Senate. That one forbade instruction in the listed topics but the House Judiciary Committee changed it saying the prohibitions on instruction were likely unconstitutional because curriculum decisions belong to the state Board of Education.
State Deputy Superintendent of Schools Michelle Blatt, in answer to some questions, told House Education members that she’s not aware of any complaints filed on these issues in the past year.
The state, she said, provides a multi-tiered support system to make sure they are taking care of all students equally. She is aware, though that minority students experience a disproportionate number of suspensions.
Whether this bill might stifle classroom discussion of difficult topics was debated at length for both versions of last year’s bill and again on Monday.
West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee told members his union does not encourage teachers to teach that one race is morally superior to another. But if this becomes law, teachers may ask themselves if they can allow students’ questions to steer classroom discussions into areas that could subject the teachers to complaints.
There is no distinction in the bill for frivolous complaints, he said. “That would give me major heartburn as an educator.”
Three proposed amendments failed. The bill requires the state to record substantiated complaints and one amendment proposed to track unsubstantiated complaints as well. A second proposed to add the religion to in the two instanced where race is mentioned. The third proposed mandatory cultural competency coursework for teachers.
During debate, Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, said the bill really isn’t about anti-racism. “What are we doing for minority groups or marginalized folks?” He suggested changing its name.
Delegate David Pritt, D-Fayette, also opposed the bill, saying he’s a classroom teacher and this could subject a teacher to witch hunts and personal retribution. “The objective should be truth, not whether we should satisfy someone’s complaint.” An off the cuff remark could get a person into trouble.
Delegate Bill Ridenour, R-Jefferson, supported the bill. He said it’s an honest effort to preclude dividing people into groups and setting them against each other. “It’s not the panacea but it’s an effort to move us in the right direction.”
The bill goes next to House Judiciary.