The Arizona House of Representatives approved a bill to ban teaching of "critical race theory" in Arizona classrooms. A Republican running for state superintendent of public instruction said that would mean teachers couldn't talk about why a white nationalist allegedly targeted Black people in a Buffalo, N.Y., grocery store this month. Image via iStock / Getty Images Plus
Teachers should not be allowed to explain to their students that the mass murder in a Buffalo grocery story this month was allegedly committed by a white supremacist who targeted and killed Black people in a largely Black neighborhood — and legislation approved Wednesday by Republicans would punish teachers who mentioned that.
Mesa Republican state Rep. Michelle Udall said it would “not be appropriate” to explain the motives behind those deaths in Arizona classrooms. And legislation she championed, Senate Bill 1412, would bar educators from teaching that casts “blame based on race, ethnicity or sex” in all Arizona public schools. That, she said, would include instruction on what happened in Buffalo.
“If a teacher can’t teach (history) without placing blame or judgment on the basis of race, they shouldn’t be teaching,” Udall said during debate of the bill in the Arizona House of Representatives.
Teachers who violate that would face discipline from the State Board of Education, and school districts could be fined up to $5,000.
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The proposal would apply to K-12 schools, community colleges and Arizona’s three universities: Arizona State University, University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University. It would also seemingly apply to guest speakers at any school and limit things like anti-racism training for teachers and school employees.
Republicans portrayed the bill as a way to ensure racist teachers can’t teach in Arizona classrooms. But the measure is part of an effort by Republicans to stamp out so-called “critical race theory” in public schools.
The legislation is one of several measures introduced in Arizona this year to capitalize on a nationwide GOP movement to demonize critical race theory — a high-level field of academic study about the ways in which racism has become embedded in various aspects of society — and turn it into a catchall term for various race-related teachings, including instruction on “white privilege” and “anti-racism” curriculum.
There is no evidence that critical race theory is being taught in Arizona K-12 schools — or even most college classrooms.
A similar law was approved last year as part of the budget, but the Arizona Supreme Court ruled it and many other provisions were unconstitutionally shoehorned into the annual spending plan in order to get the necessary votes from 16 Republican senators and 31 GOP representatives.
Democrats warned that SB1412 would only exacerbate the years-long teacher shortage in Arizona. Rep. Judy Schwiebert, a Phoenix Democrat who is a former teacher, said it would “have the effect of driving those valuable teachers from our classroom.” And in the wake of the May 24 mass shooting at a Texas elementary school that claimed the lives of 19 students and two teachers, policymakers should be working to thank teachers and make their jobs easier, she said.
Udall, a teacher who is running to be the state superintendent of schools, brushed off criticism from Democrats and said the goal of barring instruction that a racial or ethnic group was inherently superior is to ensure racist teachers aren’t teaching racism to children.
“I would like the members here to imagine what would happen if one of us was advocating for one of those things. We would probably get expelled from the body advocating for those kinds of concepts,” she explained.
Recent history proves otherwise. In 2018, former GOP Rep. David Stringer made a series of racist comments about immigrants and Black people and racist columns he wrote for the online news outlet he published were uncovered. While some prominent Republicans, including Gov. Doug Ducey, swiftly called on him to resign, his legislative colleagues were loath to punish him, much less expel him.
In early 2019, Stringer resigned after it became clear that his GOP colleagues would vote to expel him — but that only happened after the Phoenix New Times reported that he was charged with sex offenses involving young boys in Maryland in the early 1980s.
And this year, Republican legislators have shown they are unwilling to remove their colleagues for espousing racist and antisemitic views. State Sen. Wendy Rogers, a Flagstaff Republican, spoke to a white nationalist convention in February and posted antisemitic comments and images on social media. But she was only censured by the Senate — and only for threatening retribution against her GOP colleagues.
After the Buffalo shooting, Rogers invoked a racist meme and accused the federal government of carrying out the shooting. She is facing an ethics investigation into her claim — which Republicans only backed after they rejected an attempt by Democrats to expel her.
Scottsdale Republican Rep. John Kavanagh took issue with Democrats “misrepresenting” the bill, claiming it “bans the promotion or advocacy of seven vile racist actions,” but not any explanation that comes along with uncomfortable topics that may come up in the classroom.
“We’re simply stopping people from advocating. We’re stopping white supremacists from teaching our children, Black supremacists or anybody who believes that race or ethnicity make somebody less of a person or more of a person,” he said.
The bill eventually passed 31-27. The bill was amended in the House, so it must return to the Senate for a final vote. If it wins approval on that vote, Ducey will decide whether it becomes law.
Ducey, who mentioned banning critical race theory as a priority in his State of the State address in January, is expected to sign it into law if it reaches his desk.
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