Gov. Cooper vetoes Republican-passed bill with new rules for discussing race, racism

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One week after being presented with House Bill 324, which included new rules for how public schools could teach students about racism, Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the bill — criticizing the priorities of Republican legislators who pushed for it.

“The legislature should be focused on supporting teachers, helping students recover lost learning, and investing in our public schools,” Cooper said in an email release on Friday regarding the bill. “Instead, this bill pushes calculated, conspiracy-laden politics into public education.”

The bill, “Ensuring Dignity & Nondiscrimation in Schools,” was approved along party lines by N.C. Senate Republicans Aug. 26 and by the House on Sept. 1. It was presented to Cooper on Sept. 3.

On Friday, Cooper vetoed House Bill 324 along with House Bill 805, “Prevent Rioting and Civil Disorder.” He also signed nine bills into law, including one that bans the shackling of pregnant incarcerated women.

Republicans don’t have the votes to overturn the veto; though they have majorities in both chambers, they don’t have the three-fifths supermajorities needed to override vetoes without support from some Democrats. Senate Democratic leader Dan Blue tweeted on Friday afternoon that Senate Democrats would uphold the vetoes.

House Bill 324 was first filed under a pre-existing bill on charter schools in March amid claims by Republican legislators that some teachers are trying to indoctrinate students using critical race theory.

Though the bill doesn’t specifically mention critical race theory, it joins legislation across the country proposed by Republicans to limit discussion of CRT — an academic framework widely criticized and incorrectly or vaguely defined by some vocal conservatives, according to critical race theory scholars. The concept, more than 40 years old, is wide-spanning, but essentially views racism as systemic and therefore woven into legal systems and policies — including America’s.

The bill would have prohibited schools from “promoting” 13 concepts, including:

• An individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.

• Any individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress.

• The belief that the United States “is a meritocracy is an inherently racist or sexist belief, or that the United States was created by members of a particular race or sex for the purpose of oppressing members of another race or sex.”

While Republican supporters said the bill was needed to combat the indoctrination of students, Democratic leaders said the bill was vague and would lead to a chilling effect for teachers. Many educators said the implications of the bill were not clear, calling into question who would be the judge of whether teaching promotes the prohibited concepts and whether the bill would cause teachers to censor themselves from teaching certain historical facts or events out of fear or uncertainty.

Some educators worried what the bill would mean for equity efforts in schools.

“One of the concerns with HB 324 was whether it could affect equity-related conversations to help address achievement gaps,” said Chatham County Schools Public Information Officer Nancy Wykle in an email to the News + Record. “Chatham County Schools is continuing to focus on equity.”

The bill also required schools to make information for instruction redarding the prohibited concepts available to the public at least 30 days before teaching any concepts prohibited in the bill, along with “contracting with or hiring speakers or diversity consultants for the purpose of discussing the prohibited concepts or who have previously advocated for the concepts.”

In a statement on Friday, Republican Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Dist. 30) said Democratic opposition to the bill showed “how far off the rails the mainstream Democratic Party has gone.” Berger was a primary supporter of the bill.

“It’s perplexing that Gov. Cooper would veto a bill that affirms the public school system’s role to teach students the full truth about our state’s sometimes ugly past,” he said.

Across Twitter, many educators and activists expressed gratitude for Cooper’s veto. Chatham County School’s Amanda Moran previously told the News + Record that the bill could potentially pose challenges in discussing “hard history.”

“We are grateful for Gov. Cooper’s veto of HB324, a desperate effort to stop speech and end study critical to educational equity for students at the time we need it most,” said Katelin Kaiser, Voting Rights Counsel with Southern Coalition for Social Justice, in an SCSJ Friday release. “By vetoing HB324, the Governor has shown that he not only supports the lived experiences of the Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people, women and girls and LGBTQ+ individuals targeted by this bill, but also stopped lawmakers’ attempts to whitewash the history of others.”

Around the time the bill was originally proposed, some Republican leaders took issue with the state’s new social study standards, with some Republican state board of education members saying the “anti-American” standards would teach public school students that the nation is racist. Those standards have finally been adopted, Moran said, and the district is working to train teachers and communicate with parents about what the new standards will mean for schools.

“Chatham County Schools is not changing our movement in addressing achievement gaps or equity in schools,” Moran said in an email Monday. “We will continue to give all kids the support they need.” 

Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at hannah@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.

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