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A bill that would prescribe how teachers in Texas can talk about current events and the American history of racism in the classroom appeared dead Friday afternoon on a procedural technicality as House Democrats made a last successful effort to prevent legislation from making its way to the governor’s office.
Bill 3979, which has faced stiff opposition from teachers, education advocacy groups and professional organizations, said teachers cannot be compelled to discuss current events and that if they do, they must “show deference to both parties”.
The Senate version, which was superseded in the House version of the Bill, included a new civic education training program for teachers, to be created by the National Board of Education and whose cost is estimated at $ 15 million per year starting in 2023. It also prohibits students from obtaining additional credit or credit for their participation in civic activities that include political activism or lobbying elected officials on an issue. particular.
He also banned the teaching of The New York Times Project 1619, a reporting effort that examines the history of the United States from the date that slaves first arrived on American soil, marking this as the fundamental date of the country.
Representative James Talarico, D-Round Rock, issued a point of order – raising a procedural violation – in the House on Friday, arguing that the new Senate language was irrelevant. His point of order was upheld, appearing to block the bill in the final days of the Legislature.
Talarico and Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, argued on the floor over the amendments the Senate withdrew from the bill that would require students to learn and read the historical writings of women and people of color across the story. Talarico was particularly angry that his amendment requiring schools to teach that white supremacy is morally wrong was also removed.
“Is it fair to say that any bill condemning racism is a racist bill?” Talarico asked Toth.
Education advocates have said they are happy the bill is blocked but are not celebrating yet.
“Although the likelihood of this bill being passed is now very low, it is important to ensure that the damaging provisions of HB 3979 are not added to other bills likely to be passed,” said the Texas Legislative Education Equity Coalition in a statement. “We urge everyone to remain vigilant and to continue to let lawmakers know how damaging the provisions of HB 3979 would be to students and teachers in Texas.”
Supporters said they were particularly watching the Senate Bill 1776, which creates an optional course that studies the founding documents of the United States. This bill was passed by both houses and was assigned to the conference committee where lawmakers negotiate the final version.
Supporters of HB 3979, which mirrors current legislation in state legislatures across the country, say they are trying to tackle the personal biases that are rampant in public education, highlighting a few individual cases in school districts from the state where the parents expressed concerns.
But teachers say these issues are rare and should be addressed at the local level rather than by state lawmakers.
Educators criticized the bill, saying it would create a chilling effect on classroom discussions on difficult but necessary topics of race and injustice. They criticized GOP lawmakers for interfering in the classroom to gain political points.
“We know very well at this point in our history that this bill is politically motivated,” said Sheila Mehta, a teacher at Round Rock High School, who sees the bill as an opposition to the efforts of history teachers like her. to include more historical perspectives and stories in history lessons. “If I look at the words in the bill, it feels like it’s almost like I don’t have to change anything. I can’t be forced to do this. While the spirit of the bill, I know there are a lot of lawmakers who want me to stop doing what I’m doing.
Teachers said they did not feel trustworthy as professionals to have those nuanced conversations with students, which they often have and are able to keep their personal opinions to themselves.
Throughout legislative debates on the bill, GOP lawmakers have expressed concerns that teachers are unfairly blaming whites for historic wrongs and distorting the accomplishments of the Founding Fathers. In recent years, calls have been made for more transparency on racist beliefs or links to slavery by historical figures.
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