Pared-down bill to regulate what can be taught in SC schools advances to House floor

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Published: Mar. 29, 2022 at 8:41 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Controversial and much-discussed legislation that would restrict what can and cannot be taught in South Carolina schools was before a panel of lawmakers Tuesday.

After hearing 18 hours of public testimony over the course of multiple meetings on five bills — coming from parents, teachers, and even South Carolina Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, who warned lawmakers against passing parts of the legislation — members of the House Education and Public Works Committee had their opportunity to weigh in.

Instead of discussing the five individual bills, the committee took up a new, 10-page bill compiled from different components of the previous proposals, along with insight from the testimonies, feedback from the state Department of Education, and House staff research.

In a vote along party lines, with the 12 Republicans on the committee voting in favor and the five Democrats voting against, the panel advanced the omnibus bill to the House floor, where it could be debated as early as Thursday.

“With all the testimony, with all the questions asked, with everything we’ve done for 18 hours, the superintendent being here herself, and the state Department of Education being here totally, there’s not anything in this bill that people have not heard,” Education and Public Works Committee Chair Rita Allison, R - Spartanburg, said.

The previous legislation spanned from banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory, to prohibiting discussion about gender topics, to forbidding lessons that might make students feel uncomfortable, the part that especially drew scrutiny and caution from Spearman.

The current form of the bill would prohibit schools from teaching one race, sex, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin is inherently superior to another or that a person is privileged because of it; that people should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of their race, sex, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin of the individual; that someone’s moral character is determined by their race, sex, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin; that a person is responsible for the past actions of other members of the same race, sex, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin; that traits like hard work are racist, sexist, or created by members of one race or sex to oppress another; and that fault, bias, or blame should be assigned to someone because of their race, sex, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin.

Under the bill, teachers and staff would not be required to engage in mandatory training or counseling on gender or sexual diversity.

The new legislation would not ban lessons that are part of state standards, the impartial discussion of controversial parts of history, or impartial lessons on the historical oppression of a particular group of people.

The bill was stripped of the previous language that prohibited lessons that might make students feel discomfort.

“We don’t want to deal with hearsay, and we took the subjective discomfort out of this bill because it is very subjective as to how that would feel,” Allison said.

The bill also outlines a statewide process through which complaints can be filed, investigated, and appealed, which staff said would create uniformity from district to district, some of which already have similar protocol in place.

Democratic committee members said this legislative process felt rushed, as they received the omnibus proposal near the end of a nearly two-week break from the State House last Friday and only began their discussion on this particular legislation Tuesday.

They asked to hear additional testimony, including from the state Department of Education and teachers, on the new bill specifically to vet it more before they brought it to a committee vote.

“I believe it has a substantial impact on how we look upon the education of our children moving forward and also how it impacts teachers, the relationships in terms of parents, so it has major ramifications in terms of state policy,” Rep. Jerry Govan, D – Orangeburg, said.

After almost two hours of discussion Tuesday, followed by the party-line vote to send the bill to the House floor and introduce it as a committee bill, one Democrat, Rep. Annie McDaniel of Fairfield County, said she intended to file a minority report to remove her name as a sponsor of the bill.

“We are advancing a bill regarding times in our history that might be taught that caused a lot of unrest, regarding five bills, which turned into this one bill, and the bill is being advanced with a total racial split on this committee. All five African-American Democrats voted no; all 12 Caucasian Republicans voted yes. That sounds like we have taken ourselves so far back in history to it is totally unbelievable,” McDaniel said.

Supporters of the legislation are under a tight deadline, as it needs to pass the House by the end of next week to beat a key deadline, or else the legislation dies and has to be refiled next year.

Even if it is passed in the House in time, the bill would still need approval in the Senate and the governor’s signature in the next several weeks to become law this legislative session.

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