Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill on Friday which limits race and gender curriculum in secondary and post-secondary schools across the state.
The bill bans colleges and universities from mandating race and gender diversity training and K-12 schools from teaching from a list of so-called divisive concepts.
House Bill 1775, in part, bans K-12 schools from teaching "an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive,” and “bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex."
The bill also bans schools from teaching that cause students “discomfort, guilt, anguish or psychological distress” due to their race or sex.
Leaders of Millwood Public Schools and Oklahoma City Public Schools were outspoken against the measure.
‘"HB 1775 appears to be a solution looking for a problem which does not exist,” OKCPS Superintendent Sean McDaniel said. “OKCPS follows the guidance of OSDE, teaching the state-determined Oklahoma Academic Standards using state-approved curriculum resources. We believe it is important that we continue to learn both about and from our past in order to build an enlightened and resilient future.”
Millwood Public Schools is a majority Black school district in northeast Oklahoma City.
Superintendent Cecelia Robinson said historic events like the Tulsa Race Massacre and the Trail of Tears are more commonly taught within communities of color because they were impacted by these events.
“It silences the telling of history, so that it gets left out of textbooks. So that it doesn’t call attention to inequities that have existed since this country has been built,” Robinson said.
The director of the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission requested Stitt veto the bill, saying it will have serious implications on teaching the race massacre.
“I don’t believe that their intent is to erase what happened in the massacre. I feel that because of the way ... again I’m just going back. Because of the way, it’s written this could jeopardize a teacher’s confidence that they can teach this history somewhat uncomfortable and not be worried about a lawsuit," said project director Phil Armstrong.
An Oklahoma House of Representatives’ news release touted the bill as “prohibiting Critical Race Theory curriculum.”
According to the American Bar Association, "Critical Race Theory" teaches, in part, “race is not biologically real but is socially constructed” and that “racism is a normal feature of society and is embedded within systems and institutions.”
“This bill simply says that teachers can’t force a student to answer that they are inherently racist or sexist, or that they must feel personally responsible for things perpetrated in the past by people of a similar race or gender,” the bill’s author Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore, said.
The bill also prohibits colleges and universities from mandating race or gender diversity training.
According to the bill now signed into law, “any orientation or requirement that presents any form of race or sex stereotyping or a bias on the basis of race or sex shall be prohibited.”
“This is a blatant attempt to indoctrinate our children to not think for themselves, but rather think how the test program would like them to think,” West said.
The bill passed in the Oklahoma House of Representatives with a vote of 77 to 18 and in the state Senate with a vote of 38 to 9. Similar bills have been proposed in Idaho, Texas, Tennessee, Arkansas and Arizona.
Oklahoma education officials issued the following statements:
State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister:
“This centennial year of the Tulsa Race Massacre is an opportunity for us as a state to finally and fully acknowledge this hateful atrocity, and that’s where our focus should remain. I have immense faith that our tremendous social studies and history teachers will continue teaching the Oklahoma Academic Standards, which include such tragedies as the 1921 race massacre and the Trail of Tears. Students deserve an honest understanding of our history and its episodes of both greatness and shame if we hope to learn from our past.”
Paula Lewis, Chair of the OKCPS Board of Education:
“As a mom, community member and the Chair of the OKCPS Board of Education, I'm saddened and disappointed that our Governor signed HB 1775. I trust my son's teachers and teachers across our state to facilitate respectful, productive conversation based on accurate history.”