West Virginia bill against schools 'brainwashing' students on race advances

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West Virginia lawmakers advanced legislation Friday that would restrict the way public school teachers can talk about race, a bill one Republican delegate said is meant to protect kids from "brainwashing."

During more than two hours of tense, back-and-forth debate, Del. Todd Longanacre said he doesn't want to hear that students are being taught about "white privilege" in the classroom.

"Do we really want to teach them how to handle their guilt if they’re White, or how to handle their sense of victimhood if they’re Black?" he said.

Del. Sean Hornbuckle, one of the only Black lawmakers in the House of Delegates, held up multiple poster boards depicting incidents of historical racial violence. One depicted a portrait of 14-year-old Emmett Till side-by-side with a photo of his mutilated body in a casket. Till was lynched in 1955 in Mississippi.

"Does this make you uncomfortable?" he asked. "I’m wondering, are we permitted to still teach about this?'

Signs opposing critical race theory line the entrance to the Loudoun County School Board headquarters, in Ashburn, Va., June 22, 2021. (REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein)

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The "Anti-Racism Act of 2022" prevents discrimination based on race and the teaching in both public K-12 schools that one race is "inherently, morally or intellectually superior to another." Teachers would be barred from telling students that one race "is inherently racist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously."

The bill states that students can't be taught that a person's moral character is determined by his or her race or that a person, by virtue of his or her race, "bears responsibility for actions committed by other members of the same race."

The bill creates a mechanism for the reporting of complaints and for data to be collected by the Legislature on the number of substantiated complaints each year.

During Friday's debate, supporters emphasized that the bill applies to teachers’ conduct and not to curriculum, meaning teachers can still teach about historic events, such as slavery and the Civil Rights movement.

Some opponents feared the bill would turn away teachers in a state that already has a shortage of them or put teachers at risk for simply doing their jobs.

This undated photo shows Emmett Louis Till, a 14-year-old black Chicago boy, who was kidnapped, tortured and murdered in 1955 after he allegedly whistled at a white woman in Mississippi. 

This undated photo shows Emmett Louis Till, a 14-year-old black Chicago boy, who was kidnapped, tortured and murdered in 1955 after he allegedly whistled at a white woman in Mississippi.  (AP Photo, File)

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Similar legislation has advanced in other states and created controversy and confusion about whether teaching on such things as the lingering effect of slavery is acceptable in public school classrooms.

Democratic Del. Evan Hansen of Monongalia County said part of teaching history is teaching about how that history impacts communities today. He used the example of a neighborhood in his district, South Park, where Black families were once barred from living.

"You can’t tell me that the kid the children who inherited properties in South Park don’t have an advantage over the kids who inherited properties across the railroad tracks where their Black parents were forced to live," he said.

He called supporters of the bill hypocrites.

Empty classroom or lecture hall

Empty classroom or lecture hall (iStock)

"Calling this bill the ‘Anti-Racism Act’ is the height of hypocrisy," he said.

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Republican Del. Joe Ellington, chair of the House Education Committee, said it's not fair for people today to be made to feel responsible for the events of the past — such as slavery.

"Those were things that happened at the time, nothing says we can’t teach those things," he said. "But you shouldn’t be responsible for what happened then."

The bill passed the House 75 to 24 with several changes by lawmakers, including that it apply only to K-12 schools and not to higher education public schools. The changes must now be approved by the Senate before the bill can be sent to the governor's desk.

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