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House Republicans Take Aim At Critical Race Theory In Idaho

The Idaho State Flag hanging inside the Statehouse Rotunda.
James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio

A bill that critics say would make teachers think twice about including social justice concepts into their lesson plans passed the Idaho House on a party line vote Thursday.

House Bill 377would hold back funding for K-12 schools and for colleges and universities if students are compelled to believe certain viewpoints.

It’s unclear how complaints could be made, what process would be followed to determine if the law was broken or if schools could get their funding reinstated if it were taken away.

Specifically, House Republicans said they don’t want students being forced to believe one race is inferior to another, or that they’re responsible for past atrocities committed by those of the same race.

“We cannot do less than protect dignity and make sure that there is not discrimination in our classrooms,” said Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt (R-Eagle).

In their crosshairs is critical race theory, which isn’t defined in the statute.

The bill’s intent language said lawmakers find the tenets “often found in critical race theory” are used to “exacerbate and inflame divisions on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or other criteria in ways contrary to the unity of the nation and the well-being of the state of Idaho and its citizens.”

Critical race theory finds race to be a social construct, which is used to institutionally marginalize non-White people, especially in the U.S. justice system.

Rep. Wendy Horman (R-Idaho Falls) and Rep. Dorothy Moon (R-Stanley) pointed to an executive order from the Biden administration in January that’s creating federal grants for teachers to include social justice concepts in their classrooms as one example of these ideas barreling their way into the American education system.

“We are now facing an extraordinary and rapidly evolving federal takeover of curriculum in our public schools,” Horman said.

All curriculum in Idaho is approved by local school boards whose members are elected by voters within each school district.

“[Critical race theory] has been creeping through our schools forever,” said Rep. Heather Scott (R-Blanchard).

Scott said a Boise-area substitute teacher told her non-White authors were being prioritized for their “historical fiction” on the founding of America.

She was also told by this anonymous substitute teacher that the classic Harper Lee novel, “To Kill A Mockingbird,” was being used to teach kids that “White people are bad, Black people are innocent victims and the students were encouraged to believe there’s an endless era of Black victimization.”

Several GOP lawmakers, who are current and former teachers and school administrators, in the past have said lessons on critical race theory aren’t widespread in Idaho.

Critics blasted the bill for having a potential chilling effect on teachers who won’t want to accidentally run afoul of the proposal.

“What this bill winds up doing, in practical terms, is intimidation,” said Rep. Steve Berch (D-Boise).

Berch also said the measure is a solution in search of a problem without evidence to prove its existence.

“What you have is an endless series of anecdotes, hearsay, conjecture, innuendo, emails, social media, robocalls, guilt by association arguments,” he said.

The fast-tracked bill had a public hearing Thursday morning shortly before lawmakers suspended procedural rules to take it up on the House floor.

Only one person testified in full support of it in committee, while a member of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, an influential libertarian lobbying group, said the group was neutral on it and would’ve liked to see it be stronger.

All others, including Idaho Education Association President Layne McInelly, were opposed to it.

“The debate and allegations of indoctrinating students by Idaho educators are baseless and downright insulting,” McInelly said.

House Republicans held up a bill to fund K-12 teacher salaries – including a pay raise – last week until some form of this bill passed.

“While some members of this body jockey to diminish the public’s trust in our institution of public education, teachers who have moved mountains during this global pandemic are still waiting to see the additional compensation that the legislature promised them last year,” McInelly said.

Other current and former students said ignoring lessons about the consequences of racism and sexism is a disservice to their fellow students, teachers and parents.

The Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee has yet to set new education budgets rejected by the Idaho House this year, which have been on hold until lawmakers could consider this proposal.

House Bill 377 now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Editor’s note: The Idaho Education Association is a supporting underwriter of Boise State Public Radio, but it had no knowledge of or input into the content of this story.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season.

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