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Public speakers overwhelmingly oppose anti-Critical Race Theory bill in West Virginia House

Pastor Ron English criticized House Bill 4011 for limiting the discussion of race in classrooms. (Photo courtesy of WV Legislative Photography)

CHARLESTON — A public hearing held Wednesday on a bill to prohibit the teaching of philosophies derived from Critical Race Theory brought out nearly two dozen speakers against the bill.

The House Education Committee and the House Judiciary Committee held a joint public hearing Wednesday morning on House Bill 4011, also called the Anti-Stereotyping Act.

HB 4011 would require greater curriculum transparency for public schools pertaining to non-discrimination, diversity, equity, inclusion, race, ethnicity, sex, bias or any combination of those concepts.

The bill also would prohibit the teaching and discussion of specific racial and non-discrimination topics often categorized under the name critical race theory, or CRT.

The bill states that no person should be blamed for the action committed in the past by someone of the same race, sex, ethnicity, religion or national origin. If the current bill passes, schools and county board of education officials would be prohibited from compelling students and staff to adopt any belief or concept that one race, sex, ethnicity, religion, or national origin is inherently superior or inferior to another.

Conservative activist Barry Holstein said opposition to House Bill 4011 was overblown. (Photo courtesy of WV Legislative Photography)

The hour-long public hearing in the House of Delegates chamber brought out 25 speakers, with 23 speakers against the bill and two speakers for the bill. The West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers and the West Virginia Education Association opposed the bill.

“We want parents to be involved, but we also want to be able to be our profession,” said WVEA President Dale Lee. “Our profession deserves respect. Our profession deserves the opportunity to mold the kids in becoming critical thinkers so down the road they can become productive citizens. (HB 4011) simply will put a hamper and create chaos for our educators.”

“(HB 4011) is not needed,” said AFT-WV President Fred Albert. “Teachers should not be told what they need to be teaching. They know best. They’ve been trained to do that. They should be able to discuss accurate history, present multiple perspectives, and teach students to become critical thinkers and formulate educated viewpoints. This bill is a political football to siphon support from public schools and nothing more than a vehicle to divide and distract constituents during an election year.”

Both Lee and Albert were set to testify regarding HB 4011 last Thursday when the House Education Committee first considered the bill. Instead, a motion was made to cut off further testimony, discussion, and further amendment over the objections of Democratic members of the committee. HB 4011 was recommended for passage in a, 18-5 vote, sending the bill to the House Judiciary Committee.

Lee and Albert were joined in their opposition of HB 4011 by the West Virginia Professional Educators organization and the West Virginia Association of Elementary and Middle School Principals.

“The bill is not necessary,” said David Gladkosky, executive director of West Virginia Professional Educators. “If this bill is passed, we feel it’s going to further confuse our students in many ways. It’s also going to put more of a heavy burden on our teachers in how they go about what they do. We don’t think it is something that teachers are going to be able to keep up with.”

“You underestimate our teachers when you start telling them that the work that they do has to be monitored at all times. You underestimate our educators,” said Micky Blackwell, executive director of the West Virginia Association of Elementary and Middle School Principals. “This is a flawed bill based on a flawed philosophy and I hope that you kick it out.”

The bill was also opposed by veteran educators who believe the bill will stifle thoughtful discussions of difficult topics, such as race, sex and marginalized groups. They also believe that the bill will add to the state’s teacher shortage.

“House Bill 4011 hamstrings educators in preparing students for the future,” said Jenny Santilli, adjunct professor at Fairmont State University. “Students and we who educate them will tell you they welcome discussion of topics, including gender, racism, and history. Unlike some adults supporting this bill, they are mature and smart enough to handle the truth.”

“This is about targeting educators, schools, and minority groups,” Nicole McCormick, a parent veteran music teacher from Athens. “This bill doesn’t seek to make things better. It seeks to put a target on programs that help teachers better understand marginalized communities, with the intent to suppress acceptance in the one place where students might actually feel at peace with who they are — our schools.”

Ron English, a pastor and president of the Charleston chapter of the NAACP, compared the controversy around the bill to the Kanawha County textbook controversy in the 1970s, when conservative parents opposed textbooks teaching the concept of evolution in schools.

“At least in the situation, citizens had the opportunity of sitting around the table along with teachers, along with parents, and along with students to look at those books and determine how they could be and would be an asset rather than a liability to education,” English said. “The Legislature did not prohibit them from having access to making that choice. The House bill would prevent those children and those teachers from having access.”

English was a friend and assistant of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and delivered the prayer at the civil rights icon’s funeral service in 1968 after King’s assassination. English said King’s famous quote that he had a dream that his children “will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” is often misunderstood by opponents of CRT.

“It’s not about content of character, it’s about how character is deemed content in how you are seen, therefore it is a misunderstanding of that quote and therefore it is misused to represent (King’s) thoughts,” English said.

Supporters of the bill, including Kanawha County conservative activist Barry Holstein and Kanawha County Board of Education candidate Mila Knoll, said opponents of the bill are exaggerating its effect.

“You may hear that this bill is a gag order on teachers, but simply reading the bill would prove otherwise,” Holstein said. “If this bill prevents a teacher from teaching something in the classroom, then we should all question what is being taught … Saying that this bill prevents teaching of accurate, true and full history — the good and the bad — is simply a misinformation campaign to win points with leftists and attempt to scare parents.”

“Critical Race Theory is telling our children that if they look white, they’re racists,” Knoll said. “It’s telling them that if they can claim in any way to be a victim of a misunderstood population that they can do nothing wrong.”

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com.

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