Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the legislation had been approved. He actually missed a vote due to the absence of a legislator.
PHOENIX — Arizona teachers won’t face new rules this school year about how they can teach about race and ethnicity because a Republican lawmaker in Scottsdale was absent Friday on the last day of the legislative session.
But Rep. Joseph Chaplik told Capitol Media Services that House leaders knew he wouldn’t be there Friday. He said if they were interested in the fate of the measure, they would have scheduled the necessary final vote last Wednesday or Thursday.
“It’s not about me,” he said. “They didn’t want to put it to a vote.”
House Majority Leader Ben Toma, however, said legislative rules required SB 1412 to first get a final reading in the originating chamber, which was the Senate. It only happened on Friday.
It is unclear how sooner, if at all, the Senate could have acted.
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Chaplik said he didn’t buy the argument that there was no way to move the bill forward. “Leadership is so disorganized with planning and execution,” he said.
Sen. JD Mechard, R-Chandler, who sponsored the measure, said the whole thing left him “frustrated”.
Ultimately, this marks the second year in a row that lawmakers have been unable to enact what has been called a restriction on “critical race theory.”
SB 1412 has sought to restrict what some have viewed as lessons that foster hatred or feelings of shame in students. Both the House and Senate had given their prior approval on party-line votes.
The only thing is that there were some last minute changes needed to get final approval. And that meant there had to be another roll call vote in both houses – the vote the Senate did on Friday, the last day of the session, but which did not take place in the House due to Chaplik’s absence.
That will force Mesnard to try again in 2023 — assuming he wins reelection and Republicans maintain control of both the House and Senate.
The legislation has its roots in what has been a topic of discussion by some Republicans about the so-called “critical race theory,” based on the claim that majority students are taught to hate their own race or to feel guilty for things that their own race has done in the past.
Critical race theory, however, is actually an academic concept typically taught and discussed at the college level, examining issues of how racism occurs and how even current attitudes are based on historical practices. Although politicians, including in Arizona, are running for office with promises to shut it down in public schools, there are only scattered reports of anything being taught here.
Mesnard’s proposal never mentioned critical race theory.
Instead, it laid down rules about teaching certain things, like one race or ethnic group is “inherently morally or intellectually superior to another race or ethnic group.”
He also mentioned lessons on whether an individual, because of virtue or ethnicity, is inherently racist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously, as well as whether any individual because of his race or ethnicity “bears responsibility or blame for actions committed by other members of the same race or ethnicity.”
That raised concerns among Democrats who argued the measure would effectively whitewash history teaching to the point where students would be faced with facts but not understand the context.
Senator Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, said it could cause teachers, fearing discipline for breaking the law, to simply choose not to teach certain lessons or use certain books because it could cross the line and cause students to feel shame or guilt. race or ethnic origin.
“Are they so fragile that they can’t even have a conversation or inquire or read about racism in this country?” she asked.
“This bill will stifle what children read and learn even if few or no teachers actively try to make any student feel bad about their race,” Marsh said. “And they’re not so fragile that they can’t separate the racism they see in history and in contemporary society from their own identity.”
Mesnard, however, said the measure’s enemies ignore what he calls the key feature of its legislation: it would ban teaching that “promotes or defends” one of the concepts.
“If indeed all of these things, the idea of promoting or defending these things is offensive, and I believe, personally, contrary to American values, then you should vote ‘yes,'” he said.
Mesnard said the legislation even states that nothing in it would prevent identifying and discussing “historical movements, ideologies or instances of racial hatred or discrimination”, to the point where it lists things such as the Slavery, Indian Abduction, Holocaust and Japanese-American Internment.
“We’ve been very clear about what’s OK and what’s not,” he said.
Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, said he’s worried the legislation could effectively sanitize history teaching to the point where students don’t understand how and why certain things happened.
“We know that the role of the teacher in a classroom should be much more than just saying facts, figures and dates,” he said.
“The role of the teacher in the classroom should be to put all of this information, all of the facts, all of the figures, all of the dates into context and to teach children how to think critically about all of this information,” said continued Quezada. “When we don’t allow and teach them to think critically, we narrow their view of the world.”
He said it might be impossible to teach some subjects without making students feel uncomfortable, which he said crosses a line he says is drawn by legislation.
“It should be the normal human reaction to history to feel some unease about some of the things that happened in our history,” Quezada said.
“There have been horrible, horrible things that have happened in our history: the massive destruction of life and liberty, all under the banner of America,” he said. “These things happened in our past.”
Senator Stephanie Stahl Hamilton, D-Tucson, said, “Living with a bit of guilt sometimes and feeling really, really sorry is the motivation to not repeat and seek another path.”
Republican lawmakers adopted virtually identical language in 2021.
However, they included it in one of their budget bills. This was overturned when the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to include provisions that did not address state expenditures.
Howard Fischer is a veteran journalist who has reported since 1970 and has covered state politics and the Legislature since 1982. Follow him on Twitter at @azcapmedia or email [email protected]