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A revised Kentucky bill aimed at critical race theory moves forward. What’s in it?

Lexington Herald-Leader logo Lexington Herald-Leader 2/17/2022 Valarie Honeycutt Spears, Lexington Herald-Leader
The Kentucky State Capitol Building in Frankfort, Kentucky. © Eddie Rodriquez/Dreamstime/TNS The Kentucky State Capitol Building in Frankfort, Kentucky.

LEXINGTON, Ky. — With the sponsor saying he has been unfairly accused of being “a racist” and “a fascist,” a revised Kentucky bill aimed at critical race theory gained approval from a Republican-led Senate committee Thursday.

Senate Bill 138, The Teaching American Principles Act, introduced by state Senate Education Committee chairman Max Wise, was approved by that committee with a 9-4 vote.

The bill says instruction on controversial topics will be non-discriminatory and age appropriate.

The legislation would require several curriculum documents and resources to be added to the Kentucky Academic Standards for Social Studies.

The bill also calls for a reading list across middle and high school curricula. It includes the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, The Monroe Doctrine, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July” speech by Frederick Douglass, two pieces by Martin Luther King Jr. and “A Time for Choosing” by Ronald Reagan.

Wise, R-Campbellsville, said he rewrote certain parts of the original bill, which now goes to the full Senate, because there were “misunderstandings.”

Wise said the bill gives school employee guidance on materials, but as a result of the revisions “we are not telling teachers what they can and cannot teach and what our students can and cannot learn.”

“Amid national and statewide tensions that seemed to be further dividing us, I drafted a bill with the attempt to unify,” Wise said. He said the bill encourages teachers to help students analyze historical and current issues and controversies.

Wise said as he worked on the bill, some constituent comments were kind. But there were those who “would rather call me a racist, a fascist for daring to file a bill such as this,” he said.

Wise said before he filed the bill, educators and parents complained that state social studies standards lack specific references to key people and events. He said some parents think their children are being indoctrinated with current instruction.

He said parents are more engaged in their children’s education than ever before as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to months of at-home learning.

Beanie Geoghegan, a parent and former substitute teacher, testified in support of the bill which she said made sure that children were educated, not indoctrinated, about certain social and political beliefs while also ensuring they were exposed to documents that tell the story of America.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass said after the vote that he was thankful to Wise for incorporating suggestions into the revisions, but “our concern remains that the state legislature, through a process that is political by design, is mandating curricular resources.”

“This is a significant change from Kentucky’s long-standing tradition of local control over such decisions. We maintain that these decisions are better left at the school and district level. We will continue to monitor this bill as it moves through the legislative process,” Glass said.

He has previously said that critical race theory is a decades-old legal and academic theory that seeks to explain why racism continues to exist and he’s unaware of it being taught in Kentucky K-12 public schools.

That’s a point state Sen. Reggie Thomas, D-Lexington, made when he voted no Thursday.

Glass has said critical race theory is intended to provide a framework for the study of potential causes and effects of racism in society and how those might be mitigated.

Donnie Wilkerson, a social studies teacher from Jamestown, was among those who spoke against the bill at the committee meeting. He said the revisions were an improvement, but the legislation was still “unnecessary and unconstitutional.”

“Our teachers must not be censored and our history must not be skewed,” said State Sen. Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville, who voted no.



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