South Carolina lawmakers rekindle bill limiting how topics like race are taught

A small group of lawmakers in South Carolina rekindled debate Tuesday on a bill that would limit how topics like race can be taught in public school K-12 classrooms.

Both the House and Senate passed bills on the topic in 2023. But the different versions sat dormant until a conference committee met to try to work out the differences.

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The three House members and three senators adjourned after an hour after making it just four pages into a 16-page handout on the differences between the proposals. There is a deadline. The regular session ends Thursday, although since a version of the bill passed both chambers it could survive into special sessions in June.

The conference committee Tuesday didn’t even get to the biggest differences between the chambers.

South-Carolina-Education-Race

South Carolina Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, left, and Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Little River, right, looked over a bill that would limit the way certain topics could be taught in public schools during a conference committee meeting on Tuesday, May 7, 2024, in Columbia, S.C.  (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

The Senate removed a provision requiring teachers to post any changes to their plans on what they will teach and classroom materials three days before the lessons and removed another provision allowing parents to sue any district in the state they think is teaching prohibited concepts even while they follow the school district’s appeal process.

The bill mostly copies a section first put in the state budget three years ago that prohibits teaching that one race is superior to another or race determining someone’s moral character.

The proposal does have an appeal process for material that parents find objectionable. But the Senate version limits the right to complaints to students, parents, employees or volunteers in the school district where the objectionable items are found.

Missing from the bill is the explicit phrase ” critical race theory.” It instead prevents teaching that an individual “bears responsibility for actions committed in the past” by other members of their race, and that someone is inherently privileged or should receive “adverse or favorable treatment” because of their race.

Supporters of the bill said nothing in it prevents teaching about any ethnic group’s history or the “fact-based discussion” of historical periods and current events. For example, teachers could include lessons about slavery and Jim Crow, but within the historical facts.

Democratic Sen. Darrell Jackson questioned whose historical facts would be considered, especially for topics like what caused the Civil War and if disagreements could lead to numerous challenges.

“Can you talk about how South Carolina was led by rich white slave owners who convinced uneducated white tenant farmers to join in the war?” Jackson said. “What caused the Civil War? Was it the Lost Cause? Was it states’ rights? Was it to defend slavery?”

Supporters said the goal of the bill is to give teachers parameters and balance that against the rights of parents to know what is being taught.

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A sponsor of the bill, Republican Rep. Adam Morgan, didn’t give specific examples but he said he has heard about teachers who have taught one race is superior or should bear responsibility for what was done in the past.

“If my kid is in that class, if your kid is in that class, if somebody else’s kid in is that class — suddenly it’s a big issue,” Morgan said. “It’s not happening everywhere, but it’s happening somewhere.”

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