CHARLESTON — Legislation aimed at blocking concepts and philosophies derived from critical race theory has morphed several times since West Virginia lawmakers began considering the bills, the most recent being even smaller.
The House Judiciary Committee recommended passage of Senate Bill 498, the Anti-Racism Act, after midnight Wednesday after a previous bill, House Bill 4011, never was fired from the committee at the end of February.
The House Judiciary Committee approved a strike-and-insert amendment to SB 498. The bill still prohibits teaching that one race is morally or intellectually superior or inferior to another; or that a race is inherently racist, consciously or unconsciously. However, the committee removed the definition of “race” in the bill, leaving the term undefined.
The bill continues to prohibit teaching that an individual’s moral character derives from their racial identity or that they bear responsibility for acts committed by people of a similar racial background. It includes protections for free speech, historical discussion, and academic freedom in certain circumstances as long as alternative theories are discussed. It also includes a complaints and appeals process for students, parents and staff to report violations of the provisions of the bill.
But the committee removed other provisions that would have prohibited making someone feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or other forms of psychological distress because of their race. It also removed prohibitions on labeling academic achievement, merit, or certain traits, such as hard work, as racist.
Delegate Wayne Clark, R-Jefferson, is a supporter of the bill. Although different from the original HB 4011, Clark said he was still pleased that SB 498 addressed his concerns about racial concepts derived from critical race theory that find their way into classrooms.
“It’s a good start” said Clark, who says her 15-year-old twin daughters were taught they have white privilege because of their race. “I don’t think this is going to solve some of the things I went through in Jefferson County like the conversations I have with my daughters…but it’s a start and I think it’s a good enough start for the body to pass and maybe next year we will look to make it stronger.
HB 4011 would have required greater transparency of curricula for public schools regarding non-discrimination, diversity, equity, inclusion, race, ethnicity, gender, bias, or any combination of these concepts. The original version of SB 498 had no curriculum transparency component, but it applied to K-12 public and charter schools as well as higher education. It also included race, gender and ethnicity as protected categories.
The House Education Committee removed provisions of SB 498 that applied to higher education and removed gender and ethnicity from the bill, reducing the bill’s focus on race. But despite the bill’s reduction, opponents still believe the bill will deter teachers from talking about race issues from a historical perspective or in relation to current events.
“I think the process he describes is flawed,” said House Judiciary Committee Minority Vice Chairman Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell. “If you’re an educator and you don’t want to press charges…if you’re approaching no-go areas or questionable areas, the safest course for the educator is just not to. This is the essence of the stun effect.
The full House will consider SB 498 in time for the end of the 2022 legislative session at midnight Saturday, March 12, though the state Senate will have to agree to changes made to the bill by the House Committees. Education and Judiciary of the House.