The House of Delegates passed HB 787, Delegate Dave LaRock’s (R-Loudoun) bill focused on controversial teaching in schools. On Tuesday, the bill passed 50-49, with Delegate Carrie Coyner (R-Chesterfield) joining Democrats in opposition and Delegate Kim Taylor
(R-Dinwiddie) not voting.
Before hearing the Democratic amendments, House Education Chair Glenn Davis (R-Virginia Beach) explained a Republican amendment, “which makes it very clear that you can teach literature, history, whatever you’d like that takes into account the past or present beliefs that are set in subsection A above, Mr. Speaker.”
In debate that took nearly an hour late on Monday evening, Republicans killed 10 Democratic amendments to the bill adding specific exemptions to the bill to allow teaching about topics like Jim Crow legislation, Supreme Court precedent and argument, the three-fifths compromise during the drafting of the Constitution, and the disparate impacts of COVID-19 on people of color.
Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg (D-Henrico), a school teacher, introduced several of the amendments. Amendment by amendment, Republicans voted to kill the Democratic amendments without debating their sponsors.
“We wrote up another 30, just so you know, and we could do another 100,” VanValkenburg said. “The point of this, right, is that there’s a lot of contentious history, but it’s important history because America has come out the other end. The American story is a story of progress. It is a story of reaching for our better selves.”
He said, “We have a troubling history at times, but it’s all ultimately a redeeming history.”
The bill is similar in concept to Governor Glenn Youngkin’s Executive Order One, but Youngkin’s order speaks more broadly about “inherently divisive concepts” and has instructions for education administration officials.
Later versions of HB 787 don’t mention “divisive concepts,” but the bill as passed makes it unlawful to “teach any public elementary or secondary school student to believe or promote to any such student as valid the belief that (i) one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex; (ii) an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously; (iii) an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of the individual’s race or sex; (iv) an individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by the individual’s race or sex; or (v) an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.”
Towards the end of the Monday debate, Davis said, “It only takes five minutes to read this bill, and what you’ll find out is this bill says that you cannot teach individuals that racism is right, that sexism is right. All of us know that that is wrong. It shouldn’t ever be considered, ever, in the history of the United States. But it was, back in the day. But you’re allowed to talk about there was a time with the KKK and what they believed.”
Executive orders don’t have the same permanence as laws passed by the General Assembly, and EO One could be reversed by the next governor, necessitating a law if more permanent change is desired. However, HB 787 is likely to die in committee in the Senate, which has already killed a similar bill introduced by Senator Jen Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) and Senator Frank Ruff (R-Clarksville).
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