Grassroots organizers oppose HB 312 banning teaching of ‘divisive concepts’ in Alabama K-12 schools, and some college instances

Published 11:31 am Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The Alabama House of Representatives on March 17 passed HB 312, 65-32 after a lengthy debate and grassroots organizers are vowing to continue to fight this racist legislation.

This bill would prohibit Alabama and any of its political subdivisions or agencies from promoting or advancing certain concepts regarding race, sex, or religion in certain teaching or training including:

That one race, sex, or religion is inherently superior to another race, sex, or religion;

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

That this state or the United States is inherently racist or sexist;

That an individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive,  whether consciously or unconsciously;

That an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely on the basis of his or her race;

That members of one race should attempt to treat others differently solely on the basis of race;

That an individual’s moral character is determined solely on the basis of his or her race, sex, or religion;

That an individual, solely by virtue of his or her race, sex, or religion, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, sex, or religion;

That any individual should be asked to accept,  acknowledge, affirm, or assent to a sense of guilt,  complicity, or a need to work harder solely on the basis of his or her race or sex;

That meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist

This bill would prohibit the state from teaching or training employees, contractors, teachers, or students to adopt or believe certain concepts regarding race, sex, or religion. In colleges and universities, the concepts would be allowed as part of a larger course, but professors would not be allowed to compel students to assent to topics deemed “divisive.” In public K-12 students, the defined divisive concepts would not be allowed to be taught.

Any educators in public K-12 schools or public universities and colleges could be terminated if they violate the act.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Ed Oliver, R-Dadeville, with a host of co-sponsors, including Danny Crawford, R- Athens, Craig Lipscomb, R-Rainbow City, Shane Stringer, R- Citronelle, Scott Stadthagen, R- Hartselle, Andrew Sorrell, R- Muscle Shoals,  Tim Wadsworth, R- Arley, Ivan Smith, R-Clanton, Rodney Sullivan, R-Northport, Allen Treadaway, R- Birmingham, Jamie Kiel, R-Russellville, Parker Moore, R-Hartselle, Allen Farley, R-McCalla, Proncey Robertson, R- Mount Hope, Debbie Wood, R-Valley, Ginny Shaver, R-Leesburg, Ben Robbins, R-Sylacauga, Brett Easterbrook, R- Fruitdale, Randall Shedd, R- Cullman, K.L. Brown, R-Jacksonville, Joe Lovvorn, R-Auburn, Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, Rhett Marques, R-Enterprise, Chip Brown, R-Mobile, Jeff Sorrells, R- Hartford, Arnold Mooney, R-Birmingham, Bob Fincher, R-Woodland, Mike Holmes, R. Wetumpka, Rich Wingo, R-Tuscaloosa, Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville, Dickie Drake, R-Leeds, Jim Carns, R- Vestavia Hills, Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, Mac McCutcheon, R- Monrovia, Danny Garrett, R-Trussville and David Standridge, R-Hayden.

On March 17, Rep. Oliver, whose bill is similar to other bills being promoted by Republicans across the country banning teaching America’s history regarding race, sex and gender inequality, debated the bill in front of the House.

Oliver’s bill does not explicitly spell out critical race theory; however, he did say during the debate that critical race theory could be included in that.

Oliver did delete the line in his bill that prohibited the teaching of slavery and racism as anything other than deviations from ideals.

Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston, also offered an amendment that at first, Oliver said he did not want to consider, but Boyd explained she offered the amendment with the blessing of Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Pike Road, who is sponsoring the companion legislation in the Senate.

Boyd’s amendment says, “nothing in this act shall be construed to prohibit the teaching of topics or historical events in a  historically accurate context.” The House approved Boyd’s amendment.

Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, asked Oliver who would determine what is considered divisive.

Oliver said that would be left up to the local school board.

During the debate, Oliver was unable to give specific examples of divisive concepts being taught, but did say the bill is designed to “prevent activists.”

Project Say Something Founder Camille Bennett who has been working diligently on the ground and had previously met with Oliver at length said, “Why do Black activists need to be prevented? We are change-makers and the voice of the people. His comment exposed his motives, right? This bill is not only about schools, it is also meant to silence Black liberation as a whole and specifically activists on the frontlines.”

Rep. A.J. McCampbell, D-Gallion, said during the debate that he believes that being able to talk about different viewpoints is healthy. He gave an example of he and Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, having an in-depth conversation about heritage and both were able to come away from the conversation with a better understanding of the other.

House minority leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, said the legislation was racist.

“My daughter, who’s in the chamber today, how do I explain to her that the leaders of this state decided to take on an issue that’s really about erasing history, and controlling what’s taught and what’s not being taught because a certain group of people feel bad?” he said. “You’re not going to pat me on the back and tell me how much you like me or you love me, but you do things to impact whole entire generations to come. That’s not acceptable.”

Mike Ball, R-Madison, who voted against the bill, read a letter from a history professor who specializes in Eastern European and Russian history that discussed how Soviet communism mandates paralyzed the country due to propaganda. He also referenced the current happenings in Ukraine as well.

“Whether it’s propaganda from the left or propaganda from the right, it is propaganda,” Ball said. “And the only remedy for propaganda is open and honest dialogue.”

The House State Government Committee on March 15, 2022,  denied lawmakers in the minority party a chance to speak on HB 312. The bill passed out of the committee in less than a minute and grassroots organizers are calling on Alabamians to ask their legislators to vote against the bill.

Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, chairs the committee and would not allow discussion on the bill. Pringle filed a similar bill banning critical race theory during the summer of 2021.

HB 312, which had two public hearings in which lawmakers, attorneys and educators – both Republican and Democrat – voiced concerns about the bill.

The issue is that the decision on Tuesday came quickly in less than a minute and the committee met in a meeting room that did not have a camera to stream the meeting for public broadcast.

Kyle Whitmire, a reporter at AL.com, recorded the meeting and shared it on his Twitter feed.

When opposing legislators asked about having a discussion, Pringle, who was already getting up from his seat to leave, said, “We discussed it at two other meetings.”

In the video, you can hear people in the audience ask, “what just happened?”

Several grassroots organizations have been on the ground working to combat HB 312.

Bennett said she personally spoke at the public hearing and had conversations with Rep. Oliver about the bill.

Not only did Bennett and members of Project Say Something have discussions with the legislator, but they also created an amendment that would require lawmakers to broaden the definition of the divisive concept to also include divisive concepts that black people find divisive.

“In the bill, they talk about divisive concepts, and these are concepts created by who? White men. It needs to include language black people say is divisive. If you go into the school and you talk about the Civil War being states’ rights, that’s divisive, and if you bring the Sons of Confederate Veterans without an extensive conversation, it’s divisive,” she said.

“We are trying to get them to create an amendment that says divisive is also when you omit history,” he said.

Bennett said that Project Say Something created talking points after speaking to lawmakers and worked with board member Lisa Milton, who is an attorney, to draft the language in the amendment. Alabama Arise also helped with the prospective amendments to HB 312.

“Alabama faces a range of real challenges like poverty, hunger, and educational equity. We’re disappointed that the Legislature is focusing instead on bills that threaten to chill open discussion in classrooms,” Robyn Hyden, executive director of Alabama Arise, said. “Open conversation and truth-telling about our state’s history are essential to building an inclusive future and a truly free society.”

The bill was also read for the first time in the Alabama Senate on Thursday and referred to the Senate Governmental Affairs committee.

Alabamians are asked to contact their senators and ask them to vote “No” on HB 312. You can find your Senator by clicking here.