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SC House passes controversial education bill

Republicans insist the proposal aims to reduce divisiveness and indoctrination in the classroom, while Democrats worry it will prevent the teaching of history.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina House of Representatives on Wednesday passed legislation that bans what GOP members call race-based discussion in K-12 classrooms and allows parents to sue school districts who break the law. 

The 83-24 vote fell among party lines.

Republicans insist the proposal aims to reduce divisiveness and indoctrination in the classroom, while Democrats worry it will prevent the teaching of history and drive more teachers out the door. 

“If I was a teacher in this state, I would pack up my stuff and quit right now because obviously the state cares more about politics than they do about you and the students," said Rep. Justin Bamberg. 

“That’s what we’re dealing with in this bill, as well. Make sure that our kids in public school do not receive instruction that a parent would not be able to support," said Rep. Josiah Magnuson. 

The bill, if passed into law, would prohibit teaching that an individual is inherently "privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive," among other requirements. However, the bill also says it wouldn't prohibit "the fact-based discussion of controversial aspects of history" nor would it prevent teachers from discussing "the historical oppression of a particular group of people."

Democrats proposed dozens of amendments that would have required the teaching of Jim Crow Laws, Gender Identity, and would have made the bill include private schools. All of them were voted down by Republicans. 

“I've been through a whole lot in this state. So, when you see us come up here and talk about these things that we know are going to do damage to our communities, all I ask is that you take us a little bit seriously," said Rep. Annie McDaniel. 

Lawmakers voted to take out a Parental Pledge of Responsibility that was in the bill. 

“Last time I checked, parents are not the problem. It isn’t parents that the government should be telling what to do," said Rep. RJ May (R-Lexington).

Republican Rep. Raye Felder, who is the lead sponsor of the bill, emphasized the bill does not prevent teaching topics that make students "uncomfortable." She said she has concerns and questions about the changes her Republican colleagues added to the bill, particularly one that would require teachers to post their curriculum three days in advance.  

"To take current events that are represented factually and without bias away from a teachers toolbox is unnecessary and it starts down a communist path," said Felder. 

Felder ultimately voted to pass the bill. 

"I will support the bill because we, as a general assembly, have a responsibility to the citizens of our great state not to have one year legislation as a proviso in the budget that's written so ambiguously," said Felder who spent about two years drafting the legislation. 

The bill also calls on schools to create complaint forms for parents to use if classroom material is discovered to be objectionable. It would also make instructional material available for parents to review online. 

Schools or other educational agencies found violating the proposed law or refusing to adhere to a correction plan could see up to 5% of their appropriated funds withheld by the state Department of Education.

The bill, which would take effect for the 2024-2025 school year, requires that school district websites include a list of approved textbooks. It would also require that schools create a process for parents to challenge materials potentially violating the guidelines.

The bill, if passed, would apply to all K-12 schools or other local education agencies, including public charter schools.

The proposal now heads to the Senate, where a similar bill died last year, days before the legislative session ended. 

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