Alabama House Republicans prefile bill that limits teaching of ‘divisive concepts’

Reflector Photo by Brian Lyman / The chambers of the Alabama House of Representatives are seen Jan. 24.

Republican legislators are reviving a bill banning the teaching of "divisive concepts" in state classrooms after it failed to pass last year.

Nothing the bill seeks to stop is part of the K-12 course of education.

The bill presented last year drew condemnation from educators who said it could inhibit the teaching of history. Amy Marlowe, the executive director of the Alabama Education Association, said that educators in Alabama have become accustomed to "political winds" affecting classrooms.

"They go into that classroom, and they're not immune to the political winds of the day, but they're used to it," she said. "And they just stick to that course of study in that curriculum and getting the course matter across to their students in a way that they've been trained to do."

(READ MORE: Tennessee bans teaching critical race theory in schools)

The bill last year emerged from a broader right-wing attack on critical race theory, an academic framework used chiefly in higher education to study the persistence of racism in American society. State education officials have repeatedly stressed that the concept is not taught in K-12 schools, but the Alabama State Board of Education moved to ban it in October 2021.

The 2022 bill passed the House but not the Senate.

Rep. Susan DuBose, R-Hoover, a co-sponsor of the bill, said that it is "not factual" for students to learn that Alabama is currently a racist state.

"We're talking about the present," she said. "We're not talking about the past. We are talking about as we are today. Students should not be made to accept that this is a racist state. We know that yes, in the past. We have a racist past, and we have worked very, very hard to overcome that. And we should continue working on that, and we should be proud of how far we have come, but no student should be forced to say that Alabama is an inherently racist or systematically racist state."

One concern that has been raised about the legislation is that it would restrict the teaching of Alabama history. Last legislative session, Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham, said that critical race theory was in the background of last year's version of the bill.

"We understand the whole concept was centered around that," she said last year. "So why at this time, why would this bill be brought?"

Coleman-Madison did not return a message seeking comment.

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, a sharp critic of the bill last year, said in a phone interview Tuesday that the bill is "the same pig as it was before -- it just has lipstick on it."

He called the bill embarrassing and said it created more divisiveness.

(READ MORE: Tennessee's ban on teaching on 'critical race theory' concepts is part of nationwide effort)

DuBose said the bill came from concerns that students are being made to feel they are "a victim or an oppressor."

When asked if she thought that "divisive concepts," as defined by the bill, were taught in schools, DuBose said she believed that they were taught subtly.

"I think that I have, and you'll see it all the time, where even sometimes it's not out and out," she said. "It could be placed in content of a question. And, it's not really out and out blatant."

Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston, said the bill would lead to more litigation against the state and wondered if citizens would want to soldier the costs of those lawsuits.

"We would have to address the public being in favor of whether or not the state should spend money in this kind of world," she said.

Marlowe said the education association planned to watch the bill, but she said that in its current form, she did not see it impacting daily teaching.

"A bill as it's initially presented is not the final piece of legislation that the Legislature ends up actually considering," she said. "There'll be a lot of work done on it between now and when that time comes."

The sponsors of the bill said that it will not restrict history. But Daniels said the bill was encouraging more complaints about history teaching and impacting teachers' daily lives.

Wait and see

As far how the bill might develop through the session, Marlowe said her organizations wants to make sure that teachers' due process rights are protected. Marlowe said protection was something the education association had fought for last year.

"In case we do have a teacher who inadvertently crosses that line between what's in the course of study and maybe what their personal opinion might be," she said. "So, their due process is something that we're really going to be watching out for."

Protection of teachers' due process is in the pre-filed form of the bill.

(READ MORE: Tennessee textbook panel says it's ill-equipped to manage library book appeals)

Marlowe said the teachers who have spoken with the education association were less worried about what happens in the classroom than reprisals for their activities outside it.

"They're not worried about any danger of what might happen in their classroom, because they're trained to stick to that course of study," she said. "They've been more concerned about what might happen to them based on something they say outside their classroom."

Daniels said that this bill is an example of the Legislature overstepping in its roles, calling it "another example of government overreach," and that the Legislature should not be involved in making curriculum changes.

"We need to stay in our lane," he said.

Boyd said lawmakers should think through whether the legislation would be a good policy five, 10 or 50 years from now. She said that cultural, social and technological changes will impact how the policy is viewed.

"To end it, I don't think it is, in my opinion, it's not good public policy for my constituents," she said.