SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) –A new bill, HB427 would change how teachers discuss racism and sexism in their classrooms. It was amended twice on Monday and will now be voted on in the House and Senate.
According to HB427, there are things that should be, and should not be addressed by teachers when it comes to racism, sexism, ageism, religious discrimination, and more. There are many opposing this bill, some stating that its language was too vague. There are also many that support this bill, including the worldwide organization for women, which said it supports the empowerment of young females.
What can be discussed by teachers in this new bill? According to HB427, as long as instruction has academic educational objectives, and meets applicable rules and policies–teachers may examine:
- Political thought or expression.
- Religious thought or expression.
- The influence of those on:
- and anything else in the curriculum.
- They may also conduct a comparative study of religions.
Teachers may also have age-appropriate discussions, or use age-appropriate materials to teach about:
- Racial oppression
- racial segregation
- and racial discrimination
- and the enactment and enforcement of laws resulting in those topics.
HB427 also entails that teachers must teach the principles of inalienable rights, equal opportunity, and individual merit.
According to Utah’s Declaration of Rights, this means teachers must teach that every person has the same rights as everyone else. Everyone has the same right to own land, worship how they please, assemble peaceably, protest against wrongs, petition for redress of grievances, and communicate their thoughts and opinions. In addition, every person has the right to equal opportunities and has inherent value as a person.
“You are an individual, you were born with inalienable rights, and no one, not the government, or anyone, gets to treat you differently based on those traits,” Tim Jimenez, HB427 sponsor said.
The bill also states that teachers should not have instructional materials that are inconsistent with these principles. Rep. Moss, a teacher of literature, said this may be problematic.
“Books like Huckleberry Finn, the Heart of Darkness[…] they do show racism, and Frederick Douglas’s Narrative of a Slave […] I mean, everything you say here is what I think the curriculum that we have […] that illustrates that. You could say, these books show racism […] I think the language [in HB427] is too vague.”
However, Jimenez argued that while the language of the bill states that individuals have rights, and aren’t inherently oppressed, there can still be discussions about oppression.
Before the latest amendment, the bill said that teachers, “cannot force a student to change a sincerely held belief, value, or standard that is taught in the student’s home,” but now it states teachers cannot “attempt to persuade a student […] to a point of view that is inconsistent with the principles of [inalienable rights.]”
According to HB427, teachers cannot teach that people are inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, either consciously or unconsciously, solely because of their race, sex, or orientation. They also cannot teach that any race is superior, or inferior, or that a person, by virtue of their race or sex, bears responsibility for actions that other members of the same race or sex committed in the past, or present.
“HB427 still allows open discussion, what it doesn’t do is doesn’t allow an educator, a school, or anyone working in a school, to tell an individual that they have inherent traits based on their race, their sex, or their sexual orientation,” Jimenez said. “You can’t assume that because someone has a certain skin color, that they’re oppressed, or an oppressor.”
Jimenez said he heard that students were forced to participate in a ‘privilege walk,’ where students lined up, were asked questions about their life, and those with certain privileges moved forward.
Jimenez said that one African-American student said she wasn’t moving forward as much as the white students. She said she felt awful. She said she lived in a great house, has a great family, loves the country, and loves her life here, and she felt like she was being told by her teacher that she was oppressed.
“It’s not right for a student to be told she’s oppressed just because she’s African-American,” Jimenez said.
However, Lía Báez, the policy director with United Way of Salt Lake, said that while they agree with Jimenez for including that everyone is equal, she said UWSL believes that Jimenez takes his bill too far by implying that racism, sexism, and any other “ism” does not exist.
“Prejudice does exist, and it is alive and real in our world, and in our country, and in our state,” Báez said. “Prejudice still impacts the lives of all people, no matter their color or creed. Prejudice is toxic, and to root it out we must recognize it.”
Along those lines, teachers must include the teachings that no person should be subject to discrimination, or adverse treatment solely, or partly, on the basis of the individual’s race, color, national origin, religion, disability, sex, or sexual orientation.
HB427 also states that teachers should not endorse religious beliefs, atheism, or political beliefs, and states that they should not disparage it either. When asked for clarification on that position, Jimenez said that if a teacher wants to open a class with a prayer, or a student wants to offer a silent prayer, they already have those options within their rights.
If this bill passes the House and Senate, it will go into effect on July 31, 2023.