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Ky. bill would make it illegal to teach about institutional racism

Breckinridge Metropolitan High School social studies teacher Kumar Rashad teaches a lesson on rebellions among enslaved people in the United States.
Stephanie Wolf
Breckinridge Metropolitan High School social studies teacher Kumar Rashad teaches a lesson on rebellions among enslaved people in the United States.

Two GOP state lawmakers have filed Kentucky’s fourth bill targeting classroom discussions on race. House Bill 487 would make it illegal to teach about institutional racism and would require schools to teach about American “victories” over “international socialism and communism.”

The measure, from Republican Rep. Matt Lockett of Nicholasville and Republican Rep. Jennifer Henson Decker of Waddy, would also mandate schools post all instructional materials publicly online.

Lockett and Decker are the same lawmakers who are sponsoring House Bill 18, which they claim is meant to root out “critical race theory” from Kentucky classrooms. Critical race theory is an academic framework taught in law schools that explores systemic racism, especially in the law. But lately conservatives have been using the phrase as an umbrella term to refer to racial equity initiatives they dislike. Many are accusing schools of indoctrinating children with “Marxist” theories by teaching about institutional racism. 

HB 487 includes many elements from House Bill 18, including the prohibition against teaching that a student should feel guilty about what members of their same race or gender did in the past. Many educators worry such legislation is so vague it would discourage teachers from talking about troubling parts in American history, such as slavery.

But HB 487 goes further than those filed before and explicitly prohibits teachers from teaching “the theory that racism is not merely the product of individual prejudice but is embedded in American society for the purpose of upholding white supremacy.”

The bill defines such theories as “revisionist history."

The measure lays out a lengthy process for students, families or staff to report alleged violations of the ban.

The measure would require schools to post a list of all instructional materials for every course online, and would have school superintendents make curriculum decisions instead of the School-Based Decision Making Council of teachers, administrators and parents.

Finally, similar to Senate Bill 138, HB 487 would create mandatory school curriculum. Historically, those decisions are made by school districts or schools themselves.

Lawmakers behind the bill drew up a list of 48 texts, beliefs and ideas schools must have students study before they graduate.

“The General Assembly hereby finds that a primary purpose of the public-school curriculum is to prepare thoughtful, active citizens who understand the importance of patriotism, the basic democratic principles upon which the Commonwealth of Kentucky and United States were founded, and the full, unbiased history of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and United States,” the bill reads.

The list includes many texts already commonly taught in public schools, including the Declaration of Independence, the writings of Frederick Douglass, the Federalist Papers and speeches and writings from the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Many required ideas promote capitalism over communism, including “how America’s market system produced and produces substantially greater living standards than socialist system.” 

The list includes a number of atrocities committed by communist or fascist regimes and “America’s victory over international socialism and communism in the Cold War.”

Some teachers and community leaders have called similar legislation “propaganda.”

In a statement, Kentucky Commissioner of Education Jason Glass balked at the proposal.

“HB 487 creates a big government and courtroom-based attempt at a system that seeks enforcement for a problem that does not exist. The bill presents a sweeping and politically-driven change to how curricular decisions are made, decisions that have historically been left at the local level,” he wrote in an email to WFPL.

“One of the most important goals in educating our citizens is for them to ultimately be able to discern truth and make their own decisions. This is important to them both as individuals, and to the continuation of our democratic republic,” he said.

Meanwhile, Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Marty Pollio said he is concerned that “legislation like this would hinder the progress that we’ve made” in working towards more culturally inclusive curriculum. 

Lockett and Decker did not respond to a request for comment.

News Youth Reporting
Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.

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