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Alabama policymakers seek to keep critical race theory out of classrooms

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

Alabama GOP leaders are following a national trend to block in public schools the teaching of what they call divisive concepts related to race.

The Alabama State Board of Education on Thursday discussed proposed resolutions against “critical race theory” instruction and at least one state lawmaker wants to see a prohibition made into law.

One of the resolutions given to the board originated with the help of Gov. Kay Ivey’s office, State Superintendent Eric Mackey said.

A spokeswoman for Ivey, who is the head of the state school board, told Alabama Daily News that critical race theory is not in Alabama’s current curriculum.

“Gov. Ivey is working with Dr. Mackey to ensure that our state is focused on providing all Alabama students the best possible education foundation – not on punishing kids for their skin color,” Gina Maiola said.

The Associated Press reported late last month that at least 16 states are considering or have signed into law bills that would limit the teaching of certain ideas linked to critical race theory, which seeks to reframe the narrative of American history. Its proponents argue that federal law has preserved the unequal treatment of people on the basis of race and that the country was founded on the theft of land and labor.

Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, has pre-filed for an upcoming legislative sessions a bill to prevent public schools from teaching or training K-12 and college students in “divisive concepts.”

According to a draft of the bill, those concepts include “that this state or the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist,” and “that an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

“(Critical Race Theory) won’t be taught in the state of Alabama. Period,” Pringle said.

Pringle told ADN he expects changes to his bill in the legislative process.

“This is a discussion we need to have,” he said.

The draft also says public school students, including those in college, won’t face any penalty or discrimination “on account of his or her refusal to support, believe, endorse, embrace, confess, act upon, or otherwise assent to divisive concepts.”

Pringle’s bill said the divisive concepts can be discussed “in an objective manner and without endorsement as part of a larger course of academic instruction.”

Last month, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall joined a 19 other attorneys general in urging the President Joe Biden’s administration to reconsider educational proposals aimed at injecting into curriculum critical race theory and “other divisive, intellectually bankrupt political projects into America’s classrooms,” including the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which examined the consequences of slavery in the U.S. and the contributions of Black Americans.

Mackey said a state board resolution shouldn’t be interpreted to “say we don’t want to teach full and accurate history.”

State Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, is on the Senate’s Education Policy Committee and said Alabama’s history can’t be taught correctly without addressing slavery and the state-sanctioned oppression of Blacks.

“Good, bad or indifferent, history is what it is,” Smitherman said. “It is time for us to face up to and have genuine, bipartisan conversations about our history.”

He said the state is still shaped by previous policies and the harm done should be acknowledged.

“You tried to deny people the ability to read for hundreds of years, and then say all of a sudden they ought to be reading at the same level as everyone else,” Smitherman.

It’s not about placing blame, Smitherman said, but recognizing the realities of people harmed in history.

Thursday’s race education discussion wasn’t on the board’s work session agenda and it was members’ first time seeing the resolutions. One was recently approved in Georgia and the other borrowed from it, Mackey said.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp recently wrote in a letter to his state education board members that they should “take immediate steps to ensure that critical race theory and its dangerous ideology do not take root in our state standards or curriculum,” the AP reported.

The Alabama board will discuss a proposed resolution more next month.

“I think we need to debate rather than push through this quickly,” said member Tonya Chesnut, a Democrat from Selma.

Mackey said the department has been getting calls from the public asking whether critical race theory is taught in Alabama classrooms for about two months.

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