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Arizona House Republicans advance bill addressing critical race theory in public schools

The proposed law would fine schools $5,000 for violations. Democrats think the bill's language is subjective.

The Arizona House of Representatives approved a bill Wednesday prohibiting public schools from teaching “divisive” academic concepts about racism. 

The Republican-dominated state Legislature looks to join the ranks of Arkansas, Florida, Texas and Utah, who’ve passed similar bills to combat assigning racial “blame” to aspects of history.

Senate Bill 1412 bans teachers from using language that promotes or advocates for blame or judgment based on race, gender or ethnicity. Additionally, it stops teachers from instructing that one race or ethnic group is inherently morally or intellectually superior to another race or ethnic group. 

The bill also prohibits a teacher from defining a race or ethnicity as inherently racist or oppressive. It allows a fine of up to $5,000 for schools that violate the proposed law.

Democrats said Wednesday that critical race theory, or the educational concept of racism being fostered and perpetuated by the socio-economic system, is not a common problem in schools.

“I’d like to just reiterate CRT is not real in our children’s education system,” said state Representative Sarah Liguori, a Democrat from Phoenix, during the House floor session. “I heard a version of this bill in committee. I asked directly multiple times [to] give me examples of this being perpetuated in our schools. I was not given an example other than maybe two or three times, and it was the same two or three examples.”

State Representative Jennifer Jermaine a Democrat from Chandler who heads the statewide task force investigating missing and murdered Indigenous people, objected to the bill. She said the subjective language could prevent Indigenous history from being accurately explained.

“The Catholic Church and The Church of Latter-Day Saints have both apologized to tribal nations for their roles in these unjust acts,” she said. “As a mother of a Native American child, I find it extremely offensive that their history is being banned. And [we’re] being told we cannot talk about it, because there is absolutely blame to go around.”

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State Representative John Kavanagh, a Republican from Fountain Hills, countered by pleading with Democrats to find common ground in the bill’s language.

“This bill very simply bans the promotion or advocacy of seven vile racist actions,” he said. “When you ban the promotion or advocacy, you do not ban the explanation. You do not even ban the condemnation of racism. We’re simply stopping people from advocating. We’re stopping white supremacists from teaching our children, Black supremacists, or anybody who believes that race or ethnicity makes somebody less of a person or more of a person.”

State Representative John Fillmore, a Republican from Apache Junction, claimed that northeastern-based liberal influences were shaping schools in his district.

“And the reason [why] I support this bill is because critical race theory is being taught in the state of Arizona,” he said, explaining his yes vote. “Project [1619] is being taught at Vale school district right now. I have filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s office because of it. The school districts, they’re the cause of [private] charter schools because they haven’t been educating the kids, because they were teaching this crap. And this is why we have to pass these kind of bills down here.”

The 1619 project is an initiative by The New York Times that seeks to reframe the country’s past by placing the outcomes of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the center of a national narrative.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, a Republican, previously called upon lawmakers to prevent the indoctrination of racial guilt in state institutions.

In 2021, Ducey signed a similar racially-charged bill, House Bill 2906. That law prohibits the state and any local governments from requiring their employees to engage in orientation, training or therapy that suggests an employee is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously. 

Senate Bill 1412 passed by a simple majority, 31-27, with two individuals not voting. The bill will return to the state Senate for a final revised read. If it passes there, it will go to Ducey for his action.

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Maria Underwood