Gov. Cooper vetoes Republican-passed bill limiting school discussions on race

Posted 9/8/21

North Carolina Senate Republicans approved House Bill 324, “Ensuring Dignity & Nondiscrimation in Schools,” on Aug. 26, which includes new rules for how public schools can teach students …

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Gov. Cooper vetoes Republican-passed bill limiting school discussions on race

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Posted
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This story was updated after publication to reflect Gov. Roy Cooper's veto of House Bill 324 on Friday, Sept. 10.

North Carolina Senate Republicans approved House Bill 324, “Ensuring Dignity & Nondiscrimation in Schools,” on Aug. 26, which includes new rules for how public schools can teach students about racism.

The bill — approved along party lines — was presented to Gov. Roy Cooper Sept. 3 after being approved by the House, also along party lines, on Sept. 1.

On Friday, one week after being presented with the bill, Cooper vetoed it, along with a bill "prevent(ing) rioting and civil disorder." He also signed nine bills into law.

“The legislature should be focused on supporting teachers, helping students recover lost learning, and investing in our public schools," Cooper said in an email release on Friday regarding HB324. "Instead, this bill pushes calculated, conspiracy-laden politics into public education."

Republicans don’t have the numbers to overturn the veto; though they have majorities in both chambers, they don't have the three-fifths supermajorities needed to override vetoes without support from some Democrats.

Senate Democratic leader Dan Blue tweeted on Friday afternoon that Senate Democrats would uphold the vetoes.

“Instead of pushing calculated, conspiracy-laden politics into public education, lawmakers should be focused on supporting teachers, helping students recover lost learning and investing in our public schools,” Gov. Roy Cooper spokesman Jordan Monaghan said in an email to WRAL regarding the bill on Sept 1. “This legislation does none of that and is only meant for the next political campaign.”

House Bill 324 was first filed under a pre-existing bill on charter schools in March amid claims by Republican legislators that some teachers are trying to indoctrinate students using critical race theory.

Though the bill doesn’t specifically mention critical race theory, it joins legislation across the country proposed by Republicans to limit discussion of CRT — an academic framework widely criticized and incorrectly or vaguely defined by some vocal conservatives, according to critical race theory scholars. The concept, more than 40 years old, is wide-spanning, but essentially views racism as systemic and therefore woven into legal systems and policies — including America’s.

The vast majority of teachers do not use the term “critical race theory” with students, or teach from the work of scholars who specifically use that framework, CRT scholars say.

Democrats, joined by many educators, worry HB324 could prevent schools from having accurate discussions about the country’s history as it pertains to race and sex. Still, Republicans like Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Dist. 30) say such legislation is necessary to guard against the indoctrination of students.

“Children must learn about our state’s racial past and all of its ugliness, including the cruelty of slavery to the 1898 Wilmington massacre to Jim Crow,” Berger wrote in a statement in July. “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 promotes ‘present discrimination’ — so long as it’s against the right people — as ‘antiracist.’”

The bill prohibits the “promotion” of 13 concepts, and defines promoting concepts as “compelling school community members to affirm or profess belief in such concepts,” in curriculum, reading lists, workshops or trainings or “contracting with, hiring, or otherwise engaging speakers, consultants, diversity trainers, and other persons for the purpose of advocating” them.

Here are the 13 prohibited concepts:

• One race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex

• An individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive

• An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex

• An individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex

• An individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex

• Any individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress

• A meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist

• The United States was created by members of a particular race or sex for the purpose of oppressing members of another race or sex

• The United States government should be violently overthrown

• Particular character traits, values, moral or ethical codes, privileges, or beliefs should be ascribed to a race or sex, or to an individual because of the individual’s race or sex

• The rule of law does not exist, but instead is a series of power relationships and struggles among racial or other groups

• All Americans are not created equal and are not endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

• Governments should deny to any person within the government’s jurisdiction the equal protection of the law

Chatham County Schools administrators have not formally addressed the CRT discussion, but several parents expressed opposition to the theory at the board of education’s July meeting. In North Carolina, schools board members are elected in nonpartisan races. Still, across the state, school board discussions have often fallen along partisan lines over the last year, notably related to discussions on teaching history and on masking in response to COVID-19.

Many educators have said the implications of the bill are not clear, calling into question who will be the judge of whether teaching promotes the listed concepts and whether the bill would cause teachers to censor themselves from teaching certain historical facts or events out of fear or uncertainty.

Chatham County School’s Amanda Moran previously told the News + Record that the bill could potentially pose challenges in discussing “hard history.” While she doesn’t think the bill would prevent the district from moving forward with its current equity work, it could make it more difficult.

“On the surface, when anyone reads the title of the bill, ‘Ensuring Dignity & Nondiscrimination in Schools,’ I think we would all agree that is something we would all strive to do,” said Moran, who is the district’s assistant superintendent of academic services and instructional support, in May. “The part that I think has some question marks behind it that we’ll continue to watch closely would be the components particularly about being able to teach certain parts of the social studies curriculum.”

The bill also requires schools to make information regarding the following actions available to the public at least 30 days before teaching any concepts prohibited in the bill, along with “contracting with or hiring speakers or diversity consultants for the purpose of discussing the prohibited concepts or who have previously advocated for the concepts.”

The bill doesn’t specify how complaints should be lodged, who will determine if a prohibited concept was indeed promoted or what the punishment for doing so would be.

By the time of publication Wednesday, Cooper hadn’t yet acted on the bill.

Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at hannah@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.

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