Idaho Senate clears bill banning teaching of critical race theory in schools and universities, protests follow

The deep red state took the measure to ensure that students are not made to believe that individuals of a race, sex or ethnicity are responsible for past actions committed by people belonging to the same group


                            Idaho Senate clears bill banning teaching of critical race theory in schools and universities, protests follow
The development in the Gem State has happened at a time when America has found itself deeply divided over issues of race and racism influencing policing and other aspects of life (Getty Images)

The Senate in Idaho on Monday, April 26, approved legislation to prevent public and charter schools and universities from teaching critical race theory which examines ways in which race and racism impact the politics, culture and law in America. The legislation has already passed the House (by 57-12) and now it will go to the desk of Governor Brad Little. 

The controversial legislation, which passed the GOP-controlled Senate by 27 to 8 votes, would stop educators from making students “affirm, adopt or adhere to” belief systems that claim individuals of any race, sex, ethnicity, religion, etc are responsible for past actions committed by people of the same group, Idaho News reported. Under the new law, teachers would also be stopped from making students believe that one group of people as defined by sex, race, ethnicity or religion are inferior or superior to another. 

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A man holds a Black Lives Matter sign as a police car burns during a protest on May 29, 2020, in Atlanta, Georgia, following the brutal death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Race relations in the US have become a subject of deep debate in the wake of the killings of a number of Black individuals in police firing (Getty Images)

The development in the Gem State has happened at a time when America has found itself deeply divided over issues of race and racism influencing policing and other aspects of life, especially in the wake of the brutal killing of George Floyd last May. GOP legislators in the deep red state are concerned that the Democratic federal administration could try to enforce belief systems on its students through school curricula, saying the ideas often found in the critical race theory are “contrary to the unity of the nation and the well-being” of the state, the report added. The GOP lawmakers have also been holding up education budget bills till some bill addressing what can be taught at the schools is approved. Earlier in April, the House, which is also dominated by the Republicans, killed a teacher pay bill worth $1.1 billion for the same reason, the Idaho News report said. 

However, one Republican state Senator Dan Johnson joined the Democrats to oppose the latest bill. 

Idaho state Senators Carl Crabtree and Janie Ward-Engelking (Idaho Senate website)

The bill, which is sponsored by Republican Senator Carl Crabtree, is a much watered-down version of several proposals that came before it, Idaho Press reported. The earlier versions even equated teaching critical race theory to sectarianism in Idaho schools, something which is banned in the Idaho Constitution, or creating a new class of banned books on the state’s school and university campuses. 

The latest bill, according to Crabtree, doesn’t disrupt discussion. He said the bill doesn’t aim to prohibit discussion in “an open and free way” and that it is “a preventive measure” to keep the state from facing a “rampant problem”. 

Idaho’s Democrats reacted to the bill by accusing the GOP of holding key education budget bills hostage while trying to pass their agenda and said the bill ran contrary to the First Amendment Rights. Senator Janie Ward-Engelking said the bill is "not required" and that the idea that schools were "brainwashing" children with a "liberal leftist indoctrination" was false. 

'We would not be the reddest state'

“This legislation is not needed,” she was quoted as saying by the Press. “Our universities and school districts already have procedures in place that will deal with any problem we have in curriculum. What’s happening is we have a group that’s put out for public release comments that our teachers are brainwashing our children with a liberal leftist indoctrination. And that’s simply not true. And we need to call that out. If that were true … we would not be the reddest state in the nation.” Last time a Democrat won Idaho in a presidential election was in 1964 and it was Lyndon B Johnson. 

President Joe Biden (Getty Images)

The student community also protested against the GOP bill as a group of 100 students on Monday, April 26, demonstrated outside the Statehouse. Yvonne Shen, an eighth-grader at North Junior High and a member of the Idaho Asian American Pacific Islander Youth Alliance, which organized the protest, told the Press, “Many people seem to think that teaching our students about the cruelty and suffering of our country's past is some form of self-hatred for our own country. But, make no mistake, this is self-awareness.” Shen added, “If we aren't able to recognize our own flaws, we will never be able to progress beyond them.”

The Idaho legislature’s move came after the Joe Biden administration signed an executive order in January called Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities. More recently, the administration proposed two new funding priorities to "incorporate racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse perspectives" into the curriculum and improve "information literacy" in schools across the US.