BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Facing widespread opposition from education officials and others, a Republican Louisiana lawmaker Tuesday stalled his proposal to bar K-12 schools and colleges from teaching “divisive concepts” such as critical race theory.
But St. Bernard Parish Rep. Ray Garofalo, chairman of the House Education Committee, said he intends to try to push forward with the bill. He said he’s trying to work on language that could win support but acknowledged that GOP House Speaker Clay Schexnayder has raised concerns.
Efforts by the committee to kill the bill outright failed in a 7-7 vote, so Garofalo could resume debate later. Several committee members, Republican and Democrat, urged him against returning with the measure this session in a strong rebuke to the chairman.
“I’m not sure that we can get this bill in the correct posture this session,” said Rep. Barbara Freiberg, a Baton Rouge Republican.
Rep. Gary Carter, a New Orleans Democrat, was more direct: “This is a bad bill.”
Simply discussing the measure Tuesday provoked an acrimonious, five-hour hearing with Garofalo defending the bill from a barrage of criticism that he was proposing to stifle free speech and ignore the country’s long history of racism and sexism.
Garofalo said he was trying to take the “politics out of the classroom” and ensure “a learning environment free of discrimination.”
“I have no doubt there are certain factions in this country that are trying to infiltrate and indoctrinate our students,” he said.
Opponents said the proposal was a distraction from the real education problems Louisiana faces and attempts to whitewash American history.
“The state of Louisiana was fundamentally, institutionally racist in the past,” Carter said.
The bill would prohibit the teaching that the United States or Louisiana is “systematically racist or sexist,” among a long list of requirements about how to handle discussions of race, sex and national origin in the classroom. It would bar giving students or employees information that “teaches, advocates, acts upon or promotes divisive concepts.”
Garofalo said he modeled the language on bills from Florida and Iowa. He and members of the conservative Heritage Foundation who spoke in support of the measure specifically criticized the teaching of critical race theory, which examines the ways in which race and racism influence politics, culture and the law. They argued that the theory is based in Marxism.
The teaching of critical race theory “furthers racism and fuels hate,” Garofalo said.
When pressed for examples of problems in Louisiana classrooms, Garofalo didn’t provide any. He said he’s heard anecdotal concerns from teachers, students and parents, but he said he couldn’t name them because they asked for anonymity for fear of reprisal.
“The fear is palpable,” he said.
Opponents include the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, charter school leaders and other education groups. Several college professors spoke against the measure as well.
Garofalo’s fellow Republicans also raised concerns.
“I just see this as a very slippery slope,” said Rep. Mark Wright, a Covington Republican.
Critics of the bill suggested it was broad and vague and it would make teachers and professors fearful of having thoughtful and hard discussions with their students. Garofalo said he wanted to make sure both sides of an issue were presented fairly, rather than driven by ideology.
But Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, a New Orleans Republican, pointed to examples of slavery and Nazism and said: “I don’t know how you can teach both sides.”
The bill is filed as House Bill 564.
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