AUSTIN, Texas – Texas state senators are considering legislation that would expand recently passed restrictions on social studies classes in public elementary schools, despite concerns from educators and the absence of most Democrats from the Texas House that put an end to the legislation in this chamber.
This is the GOP’s latest push to restrict the teaching of Critical Race Theory, a framework used to examine racism in colleges and universities that has become a catch-all Republican term for what some see as divisive efforts to tackle racism and inequalities in schools.
During the regular legislative session that ended in May, Republicans rallied to pass House Bill 3979, which limits how teachers can discuss race and current events in class studies and prevents them from awarding course credits to students for social or political advocacy work.
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The new law, which is expected to come into force in September, states that teachers cannot be compelled to discuss current events or controversial public policy topics. If they discuss such a topic, they should explore it from “diverse and conflicting perspectives without showing deference to any particular perspective”.
But Gov. Greg Abbott called lawmakers back to Capitol Hill on July 8 to work on Republican priorities left hanging after House Democrats walked out at the end of the regular session.
As part of the special session agenda, Abbott called on lawmakers to continue the work started in HB 3979.
Divided by party, the Senate gave its final approval to Senate Bill 3, a large measure extending the restrictions of HB 3979 to any subject from Kindergarten to Grade 12, including ethnic studies classes.
It was passed by an 18 to 4 vote, with nine Democrats absent in Washington, DC, to join House Democrats in a protest against the GOP’s voting bills. However, the House cannot accept SB 3 due to a lack of quorum in the lower house.
Senate Bill 3 expands HB 3979’s restrictions on how teachers can discuss race and current events beyond social studies classes to any subject for grades kindergarten through the 12th grade.
Responding to concerns about HB 3979’s restrictions on course credits for political advocacy volunteer opportunities, the bill clarifies that students could engage in non-partisan community projects such as working with community gardens. and food banks as part of the courses.
SB 3 also requires teaching the country’s founding documents, “excerpts from Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville,” the transcript of the first Lincoln-Douglas debate, and other texts, while maintaining a ban on the project. 1619, a New York Times initiative examining the role and legacy of slavery in the founding of the United States.
Keven Ellis, chairman of the State Board of Education, told lawmakers he didn’t think the bill would ban anything in the curriculum standards adopted by the council, including for its courses on African studies. American and Mexican-American. But he suggested adding an amendment to clarify that.
“We will continue to offer these classes and teach this history,” Ellis said of the state’s ethnic studies classes, noting that the board has also requested classes focused on Native Americans and Islanders. ‘Asia Pacific.
Renee Blackmon, president of the Texas Council for the Social Studies, told the Austin American-Statesman that she appreciated the efforts to invest in civic education, but noted that the opportunities for students to engage in civic education may remain limited due to restrictions against advocating for student interests.
“We could take steps for good civic education, but it won’t be as strong as it could be,” she said.
Chuck Lindell contributed to this report.