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Bill to prohibit the promotion of “divisive concepts” on race & sex receives contentious debate

Updated: Apr. 27, 2021 at 7:10 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE (WVUE) - A bill sponsored by a St. Bernard Parish state legislator that would prohibit public K-12 schools and colleges and universities from promoting what he calls “divisive concepts” on race and sexism caused several hours of contentious debate at the state capitol.

And Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, often called BESE, publicly opposed House Bill 564 by Rep. Raymond Garofalo, a Republican from Chalmette.

BESE says the bill threatens the ability of Louisiana educators to be honest and tell the truth to students about the nation’s history.

Garofalo is not only the bill’s author but he is chairman of the House Education Committee where his legislation was heard.

“I can tell you that the way that the bill is worded is the way that we want it to be, I can tell you right now, absolutely that I do not believe that the state of Louisiana or the United States of America is systemically or fundamentally racist,” said Garofalo about the bill.

It states that governing authorities of schools ensure that training fosters a learning environment and workplace that is respectful of all students and employees and that no training is provided to students and school employees that promotes divisive concepts related to race and sex. Garofalo says his intention is to make sure.

Rep. Gary Carter, a Democrat representing New Orleans, peppered Garofalo with questions.

“You would acknowledge though right that Louisiana was fundamentally, institutionally, and systematically racist in the past, right? I’m asking, would you agree with that?” said Carter.

“I’m not a history teacher, I’m not a history scholar,” said Garofalo. “The goal of the bill is to make sure students are receiving facts.”

Carter also asked Garofalo if the bill will help the state tackle some academic proficiency problems.

“Does this legislation do anything to address the literacy rate here in the state of Louisiana?” asked Carter.

Garofalo responded, “To the extent that it deals directly with that no. To the extent that it provides an anti-discrimination, a discrimination-free environment possibly.”

Garofalo acknowledged that he did not have hard proof that there is a problem of students being taught unproven theories.

“I can’t acknowledge that it’s not a problem. I can tell you that I haven’t seen any direct reports that it’s a problem. I’ve received anecdotal evidence that I can’t produce at this table,” he said.

Still, he said he received information from some educators and said some parents have said their children received handouts stating that the U.S. is a racist country.

“It was only a few examples, it wasn’t a lot, but they were there,” said Garofalo.

Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, a Republican from Metairie, pressed Garofalo for proof but he said he received the information in confidence.

“Okay, so you cannot give us,” Hilferty said.

Garofalo continued his comments about the alleged school assignments.

“It was given out not as, not for the truth of the statements that were in the assignment, but it was given out as a punctuation assignment so that you were supposed to punctuate the statements and that’s the way it was given out, so it wasn’t like a history class,” he said.

Hilferty pressed on with her call for evidence.

“I think many of us would appreciate seeing that if you could redact out the information,” she said.

Sandy Holloway, President of Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education often called BESE testified during the hearing in opposition to Garofalo’s bill and then issued a lengthy written statement on the bill.

“The truth is that systemic and institutionalized racism and sexism do exist. Denial of such truth-telling – not indoctrination or blaming – prevents our state and country from an important acknowledgment that is required to move into a new day united,” said Holloway.

Also, Holloway said the state prioritizes local control regarding curriculum selection and implementation and the bill would put the state in the driver’s seat.

Garofalo believes there are issues that need to be addressed.

“I believe that there are some problems because as said people have reached out to me and enumerated that but it’s nothing that I can present to you at this table,” he said.

But Hilferty and some other lawmakers say the legislation raises concerns.

“The Anti-Defamation League contacted me about this bill and they’re very concerned with the teachings that happened during the Holocaust and with happened in Nazi Germany and the atrocities that happened; there is no good side to that. I don’t know how you would teach a rounded perspective of that,” said Hilferty.

Garofalo voluntarily deferred his bill.

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