House Panel Rejects Bills Restricting Lessons On Race

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A state lawmaker's attempt to set restrictions on what public schools in Louisiana can teach about race was rejected by a House committee Tuesday, with some panel members saying the legislation needlessly encroached on state and local education officials' duties, and other critics saying the legislation was so broadly written it could squelch classroom debate.

Both bills were by Rep. Ray Garofalo, a St. Bernard Parish Republican who lost his chairmanship of the House Education Committee last year after pushing similar legislation over the objections of the House leadership. Garofalo was back before the same panel during a livestreamed meeting at the Capitol in Baton Rouge.

His House Bill 1014 listed several teaching restrictions, including forbidding teaching that anyone of any race bears “collective guilt” for past actions by members of the same race; that the United States is “systemically racist” or that anyone should be “adversely or advantageously treated” on the basis of race.

Similar bills have been proposed or passed in a number of Republican-controlled states in response to the recent spate of publicity about “critical race theory,” an academic framework dating to the 1970s that centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions.

Critical race theory is not a fixture of K-12 education but has become a catchall political buzzword for any teaching in schools about race and American history.

Garofalo's other measure, House Bill 747, would require the teaching of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered during the 1963 civil rights era March on Washington," coupled with a prohibition on teaching that “a particular sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin is inherently superior, inferior, advantaged, disadvantaged, privileged, underprivileged, biased, or oppressed relative to another.”

Garofalo said his legislation was needed to prevent “indoctrination” and said he's had numerous complaints from students, parents and faculty members who said such legislation is needed but are afraid of retaliation if they come forward publicly. “This is an issue that's important to many, many parents,” he said, adding that he believes Black students are being taught that they are inferior and “white students are being told that they are responsible for things that happened in the past.”

Critics of the legislation included former state Rep. Melissa Flournoy, of the Louisiana Progress organization, who testified that it was an attempt to “whitewash history.” Committee member Ken Brass, a Vacherie Democrat, quoting from a part of the 1963 King speech about the unequal treatment of Black people in America, said it was at odds with other parts of the legislation.

Panel members largely criticized the measures as unnecessary. “We have tried to cut down on the Legislature trying to dictate curriculum,” said committee chairman Lance Harris, a Rapides Parish Republican. Motions to defer action on both bills, effectively bottling them up in the committee, were approved without objection.