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‘Divisive concepts’ bill back in upcoming legislative session

By SAYLOR CUZZORT, Alabama Daily News

A bill banning the teaching of “divisive concepts” in K-12 schools will be back in the Legislature this year after getting close to final passage in 2022.

House Bill 7, introduced by Rep. Ed Oliver,  R-Dadeville, would ban the teaching of divisive concepts relating to race, sex or religion in K-12 classrooms. Prohibitions in the bill include suggesting an individual is “responsible for actions committed in the past” and the idea that an individual is “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive.”

The bill does not specifically mention critical race theory, which the Alabama State Board of Education banned in public schools in 2021 via a resolution, despite education officials’ assurance it was not  taught. 

“The only difference in this bill and the resolution is it will become law,” Oliver told Alabama Daily News on Wednesday. “This is really to help teachers understand and to keep distractions out of the classroom that are not relevant to the things that they’re teaching in K through 12.”

The previous bill attracted criticism from the NAACP and educators who warned it would discourage discussions about United States history and was not necessary.

The bill would allow for instruction on the concepts within higher education, “in an objective manner and without endorsement as part of a larger course of academic instruction, provided the institution and its employees do not compel assent to any divisive concept and otherwise act pursuant to the provisions of this act.”

Last year’s nearly identical bill passed in the House 65-32 but was not voted on in the Senate before the legislative session ended.

Oliver said that he hopes lawmakers are now more familiar with the issue and legislation after the 2022 discussions.

“We were trying to learn the issues ourselves, so by the time we did that vetting, we let several weeks get past us and were a little slow getting out of the starting blocks with it,” Oliver said. “It’s no different than last year; we just ran out of time, so we expect it to pass easily this time.” 

The bill, pre-filed earlier this week, has 21 co-sponsors.

According to an Education Week analysis, since 2021, 42 states have introduced bills or taken steps to restrict teaching critical race theory or modify how teachers discuss racism and sexism.

Portions of the bill also apply to state agencies. One section prohibits them, K-12 schools and colleges from requiring staff or students “attend or participate in any training, orientation, or course work that advocates, acts upon, or promotes divisive concepts.” 

The bill also authorizes schools and universities to discipline employees or contractors who violate the law.

The bill also says state agencies, K-12 schools and institutions of higher learning  cannot penalize or discriminate against a student, employee, or contractor on the basis of his or her refusal to support, believe, endorse, embrace, confess, act upon, or otherwise assent to a divisive concept.

The legislative session starts March 7.

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