JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri K-12 public school teachers would face limits on how they talk about race and history under a bill approved Wednesday in the state Senate.
The GOP-led Senate gave the measure initial approval in a voice vote. Another vote is needed to send the bill to the Republican-led House.
The proposal is the latest of GOP-led efforts nationwide to push what supporters call parent's rights and crack down on what some conservative politicians have dubbed “critical race theory."
Critical race theory is a way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism, which subscribing legal scholars say is systemic in the nation’s institutions. But it also has become a catchall phrase to describe concepts some conservatives find objectionable, such as white privilege, systemic inequality and inherent bias.
The Missouri legislation would prohibit schools from making teachers say individuals are inferior, should get advantages or “bear collective guilt and are inherently responsible for actions committed in the past by others" because of their race.
The bill includes exceptions for teaching about “sexism, slavery, racial oppression, racial segregation, affirmative action" and laws that lead to discrimination, as well as “discussing current events in a historical context.”
Classes on Black, Native American, women's, Asian American and Latino history also are carved out in the measure.
Parents who believe their kids' teachers violated the rules would be able to file complaints with the state education department.
Supporters and opponents of the measure disagree on what the actual effect of the bill would be.
Republican sponsor Sen. Andrew Koenig said his bill would not limit teachers from explaining slavery and racism in America with students.
“There's a big difference between saying that a certain group of people in history thought that individuals were inferior versus saying that is the case today, or that it's a fact that certain races are inferior to others,” Koenig said.
Questioned on the Senate floor by Democratic Sen. Karla May, of St. Louis, about whether educators could talk about current laws that have racist implications, Koenig said that would be “perfectly fine.”
“If there are specific policies that may be deemed racist, it's perfectly fine to teach about that even in the present,” Koenig said. "What we're not saying is: little Johnny in the classroom is somehow inherently racist or responsible for actions of someone else.”
May and other Democrats raised concerns that despite the carve outs, the measure would scare teachers from talking about Black history.
“However tough this conversation is, it’s a conversation that needs to happen in our educational system," May said.
Along with limits on how race is talked about in schools, the bill would ensure schools give public access to curriculum, textbooks, source materials, and syllabi.
Similar measures have been proposed in other Republican-dominated statehouses, including South Carolina.
A federal judge in Florida issued a temporary injunction preventing a law signed last year by likely 2024 presidential hopeful Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis from taking effect in colleges after previously blocking its implementation in businesses.