JEFFERSON CITY — Republicans and Democrats clashed Wednesday as the GOP-led Missouri Senate, in its first major action of the year, took up a plan to ban critical race theory in public schools.
After about three hours of debate, the Senate adjourned for the day without taking a vote.
The legislation by Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, follows increased pushback in recent years over school lessons dealing with race and gender concepts, and includes a requirement that schools send all curricula, syllabi and other materials to a public portal managed by the state.
“They’re teaching kids to treat people based on their race,” Koenig said.
“It’s pretty racist to tell my Black kids that they can’t make it in the world because they are somehow oppressed by white people,” said Koenig, who is white and an adoptive father of Black children. “And it’s equally as racist to tell my white … kids that they’re oppressing my Black kids.”
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Noting that minority communities are disproportionately affected by poverty, Sen. Steve Roberts, D-St. Louis, asked, “Why wouldn’t we want our kids, our adults, to be educated in this so we can figure out how to address those problems?
“What this legislation is trying to do is to prohibit those conversations, those dialogues from even happening — just to whitewash over it,” Roberts said. “I don’t understand why, you know, folks in the majority feel like they’re victims.”
The debate grew heated at times.
In one exchange, Sen. Barbara Washington, D-Kansas City, asked Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, who supports the bill, to stop interrupting her during an inquiry into the proposed law.
“If I was a white boy or a white man, you wouldn’t be doing this,” said Washington, an attorney who acknowledged she is “loud, Black, female and highly educated.”
At one point in a conversation with Koenig, Brattin brought up the Hitler Youth. He said Germans replaced school curricula with material centered on the Aryan race and Jewish hatred.
The legislation “literally is prohibiting that — that sort of mentality that was actually taught to the — the Hitler Youth,” Brattin said. “I know that people are like ‘man, that is crazy.’ No, it’s not crazy.
“It’s creating hatred towards another,” Brattin said.
The legislation doesn’t define critical race theory, but says no school employee shall compel a teacher or student to personally adopt certain viewpoints, including that “individuals, by virtue of their race, ethnicity, color, or national origin, bear collective guilt and are inherently responsible for actions committed in the past by others.”
Critical race theory centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions and that they function to maintain the dominance of white people in society.
The legislation goes on to outline a number of parental rights, including being able to access curricula, the names of guest speakers at the school, and information about collection and transmission of student data.
It also sets up the “Missouri Education Transparency and Accountability Portal” allowing the public to access “every school district’s curriculum, textbooks, source materials, and syllabi.”
Sen. Doug Beck, D-south St. Louis County, said, “This doesn’t get people more involved. This is gonna get special groups involved to try to stir up trouble in school districts.”
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education surveyed school districts and charter schools on critical race theory and the 1619 Project, a project by Nikole Hannah-Jones and The New York Times that centers slavery and Black people in American history, in July 2021.
Out of 555 districts and charters surveyed, 425 responded.
Of those, only the Kansas City School District reported any lessons about critical race theory instruction.
The University City school district reported one teacher using the 1619 Project in one unit. The Hazelwood School District reported the project being listed as a resource for fourth grade students, and said eighth graders are “given a reading of two paragraphs from the 1619 Project describing the arrival of enslaved Africans in Jamestown.”
For ninth graders, Hazelwood said, “the 1619 Project is mentioned in a suggested learning activity where President Trump discusses the 1619 project and the 1776 project.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Updated at 5:52 p.m.
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