This story originally published online at N.C. Policy Watch.
As expected, Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed House Bill 324, the controversial legislation critics contend would restrict what students could be taught about the nation’s racial history.
In a statement, Cooper, a Democrat, said the Republican-backed bill has distracted lawmakers this legislative session from the serious work of supporting educators and students during a global pandemic that has challenged educators and set students back academically.
“The legislature should be focused on supporting teachers, helping students recover lost learning, and investing in our public schools,” Cooper said in a statement. “Instead, this bill pushes calculated, conspiracy-laden politics into public education.”
HB 324 includes 13 concepts teachers would be prohibited from “promoting” in North Carolina classrooms. They include the concept that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex and an “individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive.”
The bill also requires educators to post reading lists, workshops, training and curriculum on school websites a month in advance and to notify the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. Educators would have also been required to post guest speakers and diversity trainers on school websites.
Senate leader Phil Berger, (R-Rockingham) said he is confused by the governor’s veto. He said the bill placed no restrictions on what educators could teach about America’s history.
“It’s perplexing that Gov. Cooper would veto a bill that affirms the public school system’s role to teach students the full truth about our state’s sometimes ugly past,” Berger said. “His invented excuse is so plainly refuted by the text of the bill that I question whether he even read it.”
Berger added: “More broadly, Democrats’ choice to oppose a bill saying schools can’t force kids to believe one race is superior to another really shows how far off the rails the mainstream Democratic Party has gone.”
Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, a Republican from Greensboro, called Cooper’s remarks accompanying the veto “lazy.”
“This bill was the first step in combating Critical Race Theory [CRT] being forced upon our children in NC public schools,” the state’s first Black lieutenant governor said in a statement.
As Policy Watch has reported, CRT is an academic discipline that examines how American racism has shaped law and public policy. It emerged in the legal academy in the 1980s as an offshoot of critical legal studies.
Educators and others opposed to HB 324 say the obscure academic discipline isn’t taught in K-12 classrooms.
Robinson said Friday that a report he recently released “irrefutably established” that teachers are indoctrinating students with CRT. He said Cooper’s remarks are a “disservice to the teachers, students, and parents across our state who have voiced their concerns.”
Robinson is referring to the findings of his “Fairness and Accountability in the Classroom for Teachers and Students” (F.A.C.T.S.) task force he created to give students, teachers and parents a tool to report perceived cases of bias or indoctrination in public schools.
It was formed after the State Board of Education adopted new social studies standards that Robinson opposed and believed are laced with concepts linked to CRT.
Policy Watch previously reported that critics of the task force, such as veteran Mecklenburg County schoolteacher Justin Parmenter, found that many of the submissions to the F.A.C.T.S. website were highly critical of its purpose. Supporters of the effort revealed troubling sentiments about race, civic life and religion, Parmenter reported. These include allegations that three years of public education turned one parents’ daughter into a “full-blown socialist.” Another wrote: “Their [sic] are to [sic] many ethnic groups in this country and to [sic] few months in a year to designate a month to only one group of people. By removing Black History Month from the curriculum and replace and allowing children to focus on their own ethnic background should solve this particular problem.”
HB 324 was approved last month on a 61-41 party-line vote. Republicans voted in favor of the bill. Democrats voted against it.
The ACLU of North Carolina called Cooper’s veto a victory for the state’s 1.5 million students.
“This was the only acceptable outcome for legislation that was a threat to our students and their ability to learn and become informed, conscientious community members,” said Chantal Stevens, executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina.
Stevens said HB 324 is part of a national effort by conservatives to “silence Critical Race Theory, diversity curricula, and discussions about racism, sexism, and inequity.”
“We urge lawmakers to uphold the Governor’s veto and protect students’ rights to inclusive education and teachers’ rights to do their jobs thoughtfully,” she said.
Rodney D. Pierce, who teaches social studies at Red Oak Middle School in Battleboro, has been an outspoken critic of HB 324.
Pierce said teachers are grateful for the governor’s veto.
“We tire of the efforts of the General Assembly’s leadership to legislate the classroom when they should be upholding the state constitutional obligation to lead with Leandro,” Pierce said, who wonders if elements of the bill will turn up in the compromise budget negotiated by the House and Senate.
The state’s Leandro school funding case mentioned by Pierce began more than a quarter-century ago after five rural school districts in low-wealth counties sued the state, arguing they couldn’t raise the tax revenue needed to provide students with a quality education.
In 1997, the state Supreme Court issued a ruling, later reconfirmed in 2004, in which it held that every child has a right to a “sound basic education” that includes competent and well-trained teachers and principals and equitable access to resources.
This week, Superior Court Judge David Lee gave state lawmakers until October 15 to fully fund a school improvement plan that calls for $5.6 billion in new K-12 funding by 2028. An October 18 hearing has been set to discuss the next steps if an agreement has not been reached to pay for the plan.
Durham activist Paul Scott said HB 324 is tantamount to a “rebel yell” to mobilize the state’s conservative base.
“Although it was packaged as an attack against Socialist indoctrination, conservative leaders tried to appeal to those who, as the late historian Dr. John Henrik Clarke might say, don’t know Karl Marx from Groucho Marx,” Scott said.
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