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What can N.C. schools say about America’s history with racism?

Update May 12, 2021: The bill passed the House today 66-48 with no Democrats supporting the bill and no Republicans opposing it. It goes next to the Senate.

Right after the bill sponsor had finished explaining legislation that some critics say would prevent real discussions about racism, House education committee co-chair Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke, called on Rep. Brandon Lofton, D-Mecklenburg, for comment.

Lofton is not, however, a member of the committee. Blackwell quickly realized his mistake. He was actually calling on Rep. James Gailliard, D-Nash. Both Gailliard and Lofton are men of color.

“That’s exactly the purpose of my comments, all due respect,” Gailliard said in reference to Blackwell’s gaffe.

The bill, which Gailliard went on to call “an anti-education bill in the education committee,” has the short title, “Ensuring Dignity & Nondiscrimination/Schools.” It tells schools they cannot “promote the following 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, whether consciously or unconsciously.
  • “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.
  • “The belief that the United States is a meritocracy is racist or sexist or was created by members of a particular race or sex to oppress members of another race or sex.”

The bill has been scheduled for a vote by the full House today, May 12.

Gailliard, the only person to speak against the legislation in the House committee, called the bill a “don’t-hurt-my-feelings bill.”

“What this bill does is it keeps history out of our schools,” Gailliard said. “Probably the best way to reproduce history is to not talk about it. This is an act to ensure discrimination, fanaticism, bigotry.”

In a press release, House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said the bill takes aim at critical race theory. State Superintendent Catherine Truitt was quoted in the press release as saying: 

“This is a common-sense bill that provides reasonable expectations for the kind of civil discourse we want our children to experience in public schools. This ‘golden rule’ approach ensures that all voices are valued in our school system. We want to encourage students to think freely and respect differences of opinions, while ensuring our classrooms are not promoting ideas contrary to the equality and rights of all. Classrooms should be an environment where all points of view are honored. There is no room for divisive rhetoric that condones preferential treatment of any one group over another.”

The Dudley Flood Center for Educational Equity and Opportunity and the Public School Forum of North Carolina, in which the Flood Center is housed, put out a statement on the bill, saying it is contrary to remarks from lawmakers of both political parties saying they support education for all students.

“The most recent version of House Bill 324, which passed the House Education Committee today, incites a fear-based approach to limit teachers’ ability to discuss the reality of racism in the United States and would limit students’ engagement with history, current events, and personal health, as well as their social and emotional learning,” the statement said. “The bill will also hinder efforts at the school district level to understand and tackle the root cause of inequities in our educational system and address the opportunity gap.”

The statement goes on to say that the bill will move the state further from non-discrimination and unity, and that the only way to work towards them “is to bravely and honestly reckon with our country’s complicated past and present.”

The bill comes amid increased scrutiny in schools around things like teachings on racial equity. Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson created a webpage so people could report attempts of “indoctrination” of students and established a task force to look into such allegations. He and other Republicans on the State Board of Education also objected earlier this year to new social studies standards. Much of the debate focused on the use of words such as “racism,” “discrimination,” and “identity.” While Truitt does not have a vote on the Board, she was involved in revising a previous version of the standards to change the terms “systemic discrimination,” “systemic racism,” and “gender identity,” to their simpler forms of discrimination, racism, and identity.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados was the senior reporter for EducationNC from December 2014-March 2023.