Critical Race Theory House bills bring debate to classrooms

Michael Crimmins, Investigative Reporter

In the 2022 Regular Session of the Kentucky State Legislature, two education bills were introduced that, among other things, seek to limit the subject of Critical Race Theory from being taught in schools.

HB 14 and HB 18, commonly referred to as anti-CRT bills, have caused many students and groups around the country to claim lawmakers are trying to white-wash history.

On WKU’s campus, the bills have encountered mixed feelings from students.

Shainna Ralston, a WKU student majoring in communications, believes some degree of white-washing has already happened. 

“I think [white-washing] has happened a whole lot within educational systems,” Ralston said. “You can go back and forth and banter about whether or not it’s ‘too mature’ for some children to learn about. I do believe there has been some white-washing in history and there still is some happening”

She believes students should be taught facts and topics even if they are “uncomfortable” to discuss.

“I think that an overview of history needs to be taught; we need to be taught about all the things that have happened in between racial divides and how we got to the point we are today,” Ralston said. “I think we need to stick with what’s happened and how it has affected society; how the government has had a part in it…but I don’t think censorship is such a good idea when it comes to education.”

One prominent area of WKU where Critical Race Theory has been discussed is in the chambers of WKU’s Student Government Association. SGA proposed a resolution last semester that was in favor of CRT.

The resolution passed, much to SGA member Aniya Johnson’s delight.

“It was a very slim margin of it passing,” Johnson said. “A lot of people were concerned about division within WKU, and division within our senate chambers, but mostly we were on the side of condemning the banning of Critical Race Theory.”

Johnson believes educational subjects should not be banned simply because they are uncomfortable to discuss.

“It’s important for us to have our intellectual freedoms,” Johnson said. “It’s a slippery slope to just start banning things we are uncomfortable with. I don’t think it’s reasonable to ban it. I’m against banning Critical Race Theory, or Critical Race-adjacent ideas.”

Not all students agree that CRT should be taught in schools. Alex Rich, a junior studying political science and chairman of the WKU College Republicans, believes individuals should look at the ideals the U.S. was founded on and not the shortcomings of the individuals involved.

“People don’t like people saying, ‘Oh, America is founded based on slavery and is a racist country,’” Rich said. “People don’t like that and I think the reason people don’t like that is because, us as Republicans, we mostly see the country as the ideals laid out in the Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution.”

Rich said the issue is not about limiting things like the Civil Rights Movement or slavery from being taught, but about the “moral conclusions” that can be drawn from teaching CRT.

Rich also provides the Republican rationale for the Republican-sponsored bills, though he stressed he does not speak for all Republicans.

“The general Republican perspective, even though I’m the chairman I don’t speak for all our members and I definitely don’t speak for all Republicans, is that there are certain concepts that the responsibility to teach that to kids is on the parents and not so much on the school systems,” Rich said.

In terms of white-washing history, Rich said the aim of the bills are not to get rid of those unfortunate past mistakes but to highlight the fact that those mistakes do not define or invalidate all the good that has been done. 

“As a Conservative, we see the country founded on those values that people like Jefferson didn’t live up to themselves but knew to be true deep down,” Rich said. “So, we do get very, very defensive and scared when people start to make moral accusations against the country itself and not specific accusations of the characters.” 

What are HB 14 and HB 18?

The first of these bills is House Bill 14, the Education Non-Discrimination Act.

“[HB 14 seeks to] Amend KRS 158.183 to require a local board of education or board of a public charter school to ensure that no public school or public charter school offers any classroom instruction or discussion that incorporates designated concepts related to race, sex, and religion; provide that a school district employee that violates the prohibition is subject to disciplinary action; authorize the Attorney General to enforce the prohibition,” the proposal states

The bill was co-sponsored by 14 Republican representatives. Of the 14 co-sponsors, five are females from various districts in the Commonwealth.

HB 14 discusses the many things a student at a public institution is allowed to participate in as long as those actions do not “infringe on the rights of the school to: maintain order and discipline; prevent disruption of the educational process; and determine educational curriculum and assignments; harass other persons or coerce other persons to participate in the activity; or otherwise infringe on the rights of other persons,” the bill states.

Of the ten things listed that students are “permitted to voluntarily” engage in are things such as prayer in public school, either vocally or silently, expressing religious and political opinions, both in conversation and in schoolwork, and being absent to observe religious holidays.

HB 14 also discusses subjects that would not be allowed to be taught should this bill be passed into law.

Most of the concepts that cannot be promoted in a public institution pertain to race and racial ideas.

Such concepts include the idea of one’s race or ethnicity being “inherently superior” than another. “An individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously,” and promoting division between races or ethnicities. 

The bill lays out the means of reporting a violation in its first section. A possible fine of $5,000 per day will be assessed if the violation continues and the fine is to be deducted from that public institution. 

“The commissioner of the Department of Education shall comply with the attorney general and deduct and withhold the amount of funds designated by the Attorney General from any allotment to a school district or public charter school,” the proposal states

House Bill 18 is very similar in scope to HB 14, signed by 20 co-sponsors; the bill applies many of the same prohibitions to public universities.

It uses the same language as HB 14 to prohibits the same subjects regarding sex and race. Like HB 14, in section three of HB 18, it allows for the bill to go into effect even if it is found to have parts deemed invalid.

“If any provision of this act or the application thereof to any person or circumstance is held invalid, the invalidity shall not affect other provisions or applications of the act that can be given effect without the invalid provision or application, and to this end the provisions of this act are severable,” the bill states.

Both HB 14 and 18 were proposed to the House to the Committee on Committees on Jan. 4.

“Whereas it is imperative that the racist indoctrination of Kentucky 13 students be eradicated, an emergency is declared to exist, and this act takes effect upon 14 its passage and approval by the governor or upon its otherwise becoming a law,” the bill states.

Investigative Reporter Michael Crimmins can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @michael_crimm