States

Bill to Restrict How Race and Racism Is Taught in Schools Headed to Texas Governor

By Eleanor Dearman, Fort Worth Star-Telegram — September 03, 2021 4 min read
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a news conference in Austin, Texas, on June 8, 2021.
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A bill that would limit how race is taught in schools is headed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

The legislation passed out of the House on Thursday. Changes made on the floor were then sent to the Senate, which voted to accept the amendments.

If the “critical race theory” bill sounds familiar, that’s because lawmakers passed a similar one during the regular legislative session. When he signed the bill, Abbott said it was a “strong move to abolish critical race theory in Texas, but more must be done.” He added critical race theory legislation to the July and August special session agendas.

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“I know this is a contentious discussion, debate,” said Rep. Huberty, the bill’s House sponsor and a Houston Republican. “I am not here to stand in front of you to re-litigate what is current law. What we are here to do today is to ... make this better.”

Five amendments were added to the legislation during Thursday’s floor debate. Six others, including changes dealing with students’ participation in organizations and activities for school credit, were rejected.

For instance, Rep. Alma Allen, D-Houston, offered an amendment that would have clarified that students can get credit for writing to or calling lawmakers. Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, proposed cutting a section of the bill that limits students’ ability to get credit for working with organizations engaged in lobbying or public policy advocacy. She noted that schools in her district have partnerships with firefighters and a hospital system that provides educational opportunities for students.

“Everybody lobbies in this day and age,” she said. “The language in this bill is so broad that it would exclude those career technology education programs from happening anymore.”

Huberty said the intent of the bill isn’t to keep kids from working for credit. Instead, they could not work in a business’ lobbying arm. He maintained an amendment addresses Hinojosa and Allen’s concerns, and other amendments were later added to clarify that such activities are allowed.

Lawmakers are in their final days of the special session and have until Sunday to complete their work. Business in the House was delayed after a number of Democrats stayed away from the chamber to block a divisive election bill. Enough members eventually returned for the representatives to consider legislation.

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As lawmakers prepared for the vote, Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, called the bill a “blatant attempt to censor valuable education in our classrooms and whitewash our history.” Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, thanked Huberty for working to “make this bill a whole lot better.”

The House must vote on the bill twice before it goes back to the Senate. Both votes were taken Thursday, the second being 81-43.

What is critical race theory?

Kerry Goldmann, a lecturer in the University of North Texas’ history department, previously told the Star-Telegram that critical race theory is a framework that assists researchers in examining how racial inequity has been built into and affects American social systems.

Opponents of the legislation say it could have a chilling effect on classroom discussions about current events and history, according to the House Research Organization. There’s also little evidence of critical race theory concepts being taught to K-12 students, they say.

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Supporters believe the bill is needed to provide students a strong, balanced foundation to understand history and current events. They also believe the bill would improve the state’s current law by removing the list of documents required to be taught, leaving curriculum specifics to the State Board of Education.

The concept of critical race theory has been a hot-button issue at local school board meetings.

What’s in the critical race theory bill?

The version of the law now in effect includes several amendments added by Democrats requiring the teaching of writings related to the Chicano movement, women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement as part of social studies curriculum. It also requires teaching the history of white supremacy and slavery, and the ways in which it is morally wrong.

The bill up for debate Thursday, Senate Bill 3, does not include the list of documents. However, an amendment clarifies that the State Board of Education can’t use the removal of those documents as a reason to not include them in state social studies curriculum.

As amended Thursday, the bill states that a teacher discussing an issue of public policy or social affairs must “explore that topic objectively and in a manner free from political bias.”

It lays out a list of concepts that can’t be taught. Concepts off limits include the idea that “an individual, by virtue of the individual ‘s race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously” and “an individual, by virtue of the individual ‘s race or sex, bears responsibility, blame or guilt for actions committed by other members of the same race or sex.”

The legislation also creates a civics training program for teachers and administrators. An amendment that was accepted would establish an advisory board for the program.

The bill passed out of the Senate on Aug. 11 and out of the House Public Education committee on Tuesday. The committee adjourned Monday without voting on the bill. Dutton, who chairs the committee, at the time said it was his understanding the Senate wouldn’t consider restoring funding for the legislature if the bill and another related to transgender students’ participation on sports teams didn’t pass, according to The Texas Tribune.

Copyright (c) 2021, Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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