RALEIGH — A previously vetoed proposal advancing in the North Carolina House would restrict how teachers can discuss certain racial topics in the classroom amid a national GOP crusade against ideas they associate with “critical race theory.”
The bill, which passed Tuesday in the House Education Committee, would ban public schools from compelling students to adopt a list of beliefs, including that students should feel guilty because of their race or sex and that they bear responsibility for past actions committed by members of the same race or sex.
Schools would also be required to notify the state’s Department of Public Instruction and post details online before they can host a diversity training session or a speaker who has previously promoted any of the beliefs restricted by the bill.
Bill sponsor Rep. John Torbett, a Gaston County Republican who chairs the education committee, said it will prevent discriminatory concepts from being taught as fact, now and in the future. He highlighted a provision that would prohibit educators from asserting that one race or sex is inherently superior.
“Who knows what group will rise to a prominent position to try to come and indoctrinate our children?” Torbett said. “This bill protects whatever group that is from soiling the minds of our kids with thoughts that don’t collectively bring us together.”
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the proposal in 2021 after warning that it would push “calculated, conspiracy-laden politics into public education.” Republicans resurrected it this year after gaining enough ground in the midterm elections to land within one seat of a veto-proof supermajority.
Their latest action is part of a national Republican effort to quell classroom instruction on topics they associate with critical race theory, a complex academic and legal framework that centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions, which perpetuate inequalities.
While the bill does not explicitly mention the framework, it does prohibit schools from teaching that the United States was created for the purpose of oppressing members of another race or sex. It also rejects the notion that the government is “inherently racist.”
While many K-12 public schools teach about the effects of slavery and racism throughout U.S. history, there is little to no evidence that critical race theory, as it’s defined, is being taught. Republicans in recent years have co-opted the phrase as a catchall for racial topics they find unpalatable, using it as a political tool to limit lessons about systemic inequality, white privilege and racial justice efforts.
First-term Rep. Ken Fontenot, a Wilson County Republican, commended the bill for outlawing critical race theory, which he claimed enforces a “one-way racism that is white-to-Black” and asserts that “Caucasians are somehow privileged” compared to other ethnic groups.
“I think it’s just plain that we’re sifting out lopsided, uneducable, uncritical, not scholarly theories that are causing more harm than good,” he said.
Since 2021, 44 states have introduced legislation or taken other actions to restrict how teachers can discuss racism and sexism in the classroom, according to an Education Week analysis. Eighteen states have imposed these regulations, and 10 are currently considering proposals.
Rep. Marcia Morey, a Durham County Democrat, raised concerns that the bill would place additional pressure on teachers who might not understand what they can and cannot discuss with students.
The proposal allows some leeway for impartial discussions on “controversial aspects of history,” including historical oppression of a particular group based on race. Restrictions would not apply to textbooks and some historical documents.
Morey encouraged lawmakers to remember past discussions about a bipartisan Holocaust education bill passed by the legislature in 2021 for a reminder about why it’s important to learn about the greatest atrocities in history.
“Much of our history is race related, and teaching and learning about lynching and slavery and the effects of Jim Crow laws will make students uncomfortable,” she said. “But a sound, basic education is a full discussion of facts of racism in American history.”