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West Virginia House committee makes more changes to bill dealing with CRT concepts in schools

Delegate Chad Lovejoy, right, believes that SB 498 will discourage the discussion of difficult topics in class, such as race. (Photo courtesy of WV Legislative Photography)

CHARLESTON — Legislation to block concepts and philosophies derived from critical race theory has morphed several times since West Virginia lawmakers started reviewing the bills, with the most recent bill being whittled down even further.

The House Judiciary Committee recommended Senate Bill 498, the Anti-Racism Act, for passage after midnight Wednesday after a previous bill, House Bill 4011, never made it out of the committee at the end of February.

The House Judiciary Committee approved a strike-and-insert amendment to SB 498. The bill still prohibits the teaching that one race is morally or intellectually superior or inferior to another; or that one race is inherently racist either consciously or unconsciously. However, the committee took out the definition of “race” in the bill, leaving the term undefined.

The bill continues to prohibit teaching that an individual’s moral character is derived from their racial identity or that they bear responsibility for actions committed by those of similar racial backgrounds. It includes protections for free speech, historical discussion, and academic freedom under certain circumstances as long as alternative theories are discussed. It also includes a complaint and appeal process for students, parents, and staff to report violations of the provisions of the bill.

But the committee removed other provisions that would have prohibited making someone feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of their race. It also removed prohibitions against labeling academic achievement, merit, or certain traits, such as hard work, as racist.

Delegate Wayne Clark, R-Jefferson, is a supporter of the bill. While different from the original HB 4011, Clark said he was still happy SB 498 dealt with his concerns about racial concepts derived from critical race theory making it into classrooms.

“It’s a good start,” said Clark, who says his two 15-year-old twin daughters have been taught that they have white privilege because of their race. “I don’t think it’s going to address some of the things I’ve gone through in Jefferson County, like the conversations I have with my daughters … but it is a start and I think it’s enough of a start that the body will pass it and then maybe next year we look at making it stronger.”

HB 4011 would have required greater curriculum transparency for public schools pertaining to non-discrimination, diversity, equity, inclusion, race, ethnicity, sex, bias or any combination of those concepts. The original version of SB 498 didn’t have a curriculum transparency component, but it did apply to K-12 public and charter schools as well as higher education. It also included race, sex, and ethnicity as protected categories.

The House Education Committee removed provisions of SB 498 that applied to higher education and removed sex and ethnicity from the bill, narrowing the bill’s focus on race. But despite the bill being whittled down, opponents still believe that the bill will scare teachers away from talking about issues of race from a historical perspective or in relation to current events.

“I think the process it lays out is flawed,” said House Judiciary Committee Minority Vice Chairman Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell. “If you’re an educator and you don’t want to draw a complaint … if you go near some prohibited areas or questionable areas, the safer route for the educator is just not to do it. That is the essence of the chilling effect.”

The full House will consider SB 498 in time for the end of the 2022 legislative session at midnight Saturday, March 12, though the state Senate will need to concur with changes made to the bill by the House Education and Judiciary committees.

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

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