Bill to restrict what can be taught in SC classrooms passes in House

A bill that would restrict what can be taught and discussed about history and current events in South Carolina schools has moved closer to becoming law.
Published: Feb. 8, 2023 at 10:36 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 8, 2023 at 11:28 PM EST

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - A bill that would restrict what can be taught and discussed about history and current events in South Carolina schools has moved closer to becoming law.

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives gave second reading, essentially passing, to the “Transparency and Integrity in Education Act” in an 83-34 vote along party lines.

The nearly six-hour debate could have been longer, but Republicans, who hold a supermajority in the House, voted to limit how many amendments could be proposed and how long those amendments and the bill itself could be debated, stifling a Democratic filibuster.

The bill would ban teaching concepts including one race, sex, ethnicity, color, or national origin is inherently superior to another and that people are responsible for other actions committed in the past by members of their same race or sex.

Republican supporters say the bill is intended to combat classroom indoctrination and discord.

“Taxpayers fund our schools. Parents have to send their kids to be educated, and they should expect an education that is free from ideological indoctrination,” Rep. Adam Morgan, R – Greenville, said.

Democrats bashed the legislation, characterizing it as a solution in search of a problem when the state could be addressing real issues in education, including its ongoing teacher shortage and pandemic learning-loss recovery.

“I’ve have been here for quite some time, and this is one of the worst pieces of legislation I’ve ever seen,” Rep. Leon Howard, a Richland County Democrat who has served in the House since 1995, said.

The bill states it does not ban the fact-based discussion or instruction of controversial aspects of history or current events or about the historical oppression of a particular group of people based on race, ethnicity, religion, sex, et cetera.

The House voted Wednesday to include a Democratic amendment that added “the fact-based and historically accurate discussion of the history of slavery” to that list.

“This bill is not going to make everybody happy. But what it will do is it’ll provide transparency. It’ll provide a broad scope for the inspirational history and for the shameful history,” Rep. Jay West, R – Anderson, said.

The bill does not explicitly mention the controversial academic concept known as “Critical Race Theory,” which the South Carolina Department of Education has repeatedly said is not part of state standards, though the concepts prohibited in this bill are often associated with it.

But Democrats contended the fear that some teachers might still be teaching those concepts is why this bill was even being considered.

“Look where we’re at today: Right in the middle of Black History Month, we’re passing a bill that was borne out of uncomfortability to do with Black history,” Rep. Jermaine Johnson, D – Richland, said.

The legislation would prohibit students and school staff from being required to participate in mandatory gender or sexual diversity training or counseling, and students who do participate need written parental permission.

It also extensively outlines a complaint process if someone believes a school is in violation. Only current students, parents, and employees of the school in question are permitted to file a complaint, with an amendment proposed by Rep. RJ May, R – Lexington, to expand that to anyone who lives in South Carolina narrowly failing.

May’s push to remove a “Parental Pledge of Responsibility” from the bill was adopted.

“Last time I checked, parents are not the problem. It isn’t parents that the government should be telling what to do,” May said.

Another amendment adopted Wednesday allows parents to sue districts over violations without requiring they go through the entire complaint process first.

“It’s open-ended as far as how long a school has to respond to a complaint,” Rep. John McCravy, R – Greenwood, said. “And in that case, we could’ve already had our children exposed to the problem.”

Democrats proposed most of the 47 amendments, including some that would exempt lessons on certain topics from that complaint process, including about Jim Crow Laws and Dixiecrats, but almost all were voted down.

“I’ve been through a whole heck of a lot of racism in this daggone state,” Rep. Annie McDaniel, D – Fairfield, said. “So when you see us come up here and you see us talk about these things that we know are going to do damage to our communities, all I ask is that you just take us a little bit serious.”

It would ultimately be up to the State Board of Education to determine if a school violated the law, and if so, the Department of Education could withhold up to 5% of its state funding. Teachers found to be in violation could have their license suspended or revoked.

Others warned this bill could scare teachers into an early retirement or career change, or prevent students from getting into the profession at all in South Carolina.

It comes as the state’s teacher shortage continues to worsen, with nearly 1,500 educator positions vacant across South Carolina at the start of this school year.

“If we keep passing legislation like this, it’s not going to matter what we tell our teachers to teach because we’re not going to have anybody to teach at all,” Rep. Russell Ott, D – Calhoun, said.

After a perfunctory third reading vote in the House on Thursday, the bill will move to the state Senate for its consideration.