By Madeline Thigpen and Itoro Umontuen
The Georgia State Senate passed Senate Bill 377 by a 32-20 margin. The bill would require all state government agencies related to education to make sure their curricula does not ‘act upon, promote, or encourage certain concepts.’ The bill does not mention Critical Race Theory by name.
Critical Race Theory is not currently taught in Georgia’s K-12 public schools.
State Sen. Bo Hatchett, R-Cornelia, the bill’s primary sponsor, held a press conference outside the senate chamber following the vote.
“It’s so important that we teach our children at home about certain topics, and these topics should not be taught in school,” Hatchett said.
Among the ideas that this bill would prevent from being taught is that the United States or the State of Georgia as a whole or as a system is inherently or systemically racist. Hatchett clarified during the press conference that individual instances of racism can still be taught under the bill.
“Teaching about the civil war, teaching about slavery, teaching about the Jim Crow era is still allowed,” Hatchett continued. “But at the end of the day, what this bill says is that a teacher should not tell the child that because of their race, skin color, or ethnicity that they should feel guilty that it is their fault. This bill allows history to be taught.”
State Sen. Elena Parent, D-Decatur, addressed the senate chamber before the vote to express her opposition to SB 377.
“This bill demeans Black students by saying racism was eliminated,” she said.
The bill’s supporters have said SB 377 is being misrepresented. Hatchett told reporters the bill will not affect 99.99% of teachers who are not teaching the concepts that could potentially be prohibited.
Critics have argued that SB 377 will put teachers under duress by having to tailor their lessons around the bill.
State Sen. Harold Jones II, D-Augusta, asked the Senate chamber on what date should teachers determine the United States stopped being inherently discriminatory or racist.
“The United States of America and Georgia at one time was discriminatory, and when do they have to cut it off? Is it 1945? Does it have to be 1965? 1985 or 2000? Or do they have to cut it off in order to come under the rubric of the statute,” Jones asked. “And at that point in time, you have a complete restriction on speech.”
SB 377 and House Bill 1084 is a similar bill with language from an executive order by former President Donald J. Trump. Both bills would forbid the teaching of lessons that are “inherently racist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously” and that no one “should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of his or her race.”
State Sen. Kim Jackson, D-Stone Mountain, said this bill would leave children searching for demoralizing answers as they potentially could not learn about America’s historical past.
“What is a teacher to do if she’s confronted with these facts in a classroom? How is she supposed to explain to students the reasons behind the inequality in our country and in our states, not the historical inequalities, the ones that are happening now,” Jackson questioned.
“But this is exactly the reason why it’s so important that we do teach about systemic racism and systemic racism. Not just in our past, but in our present. Because without explanation, without explaining that systemic racism is real, students of today would be left to draw crushing and demoralizing conclusions about inequality, left to conclude that inequality is somehow inevitable and inherent in a particular race of people.”
Senate Bill 377 is heading to the Georgia House of Representatives for further debate. In order for a bill to become law, the proposed legislation must pass both chambers before the end of the legislative session on April 4. Then, the legislation must be signed by the governor and it will become law.
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