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South Carolina house bill slammed by Democrats claiming it would restrict discussion of Black history

Rep. Jermaine Johnson, a Democrat from Richland County, said he was filing a bill that would prevent schools from teaching about slave owners in response.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Democrats in South Carolina's state House say a proposed bill being read in committee would restrict public school teachers from discussing Black history. In response, one Democrat has sarcastically said he would file a bill to prevent schools from teaching about slave owners, saying students should be "protected" from that history.

In a news release Tuesday, the South Carolina House Democratic Caucus (SCHDC) said the proposed House Bill 3728 would censor curriculum taught in the state's public schools. The bill titled the "South Carolina Transparency and Integrity in Education Act" was introduced and referred to the Committee on Education and Public Works on Jan. 18, 2023.

It was sponsored by six Republicans, including Rep. Raye Felder of York County. WCNC Charlotte received this statement from Felder:

House bill 3728 ensures that public education instruction, especially in social studies and history, is presented factually and without bias. The bill emphasizes that the broad scope of history—both the good and the bad—must be taught in public schools. The bill does not prohibit the teaching of controversial topics. Instead, it specifically provides that schools can teach the history of ethnic groups as described in state standards and allows for fact-based discussions of controversial aspects of history.

The bill does not cause extra work for teachers, and merely affirms what should be in the syllabi. Because every district has a Learning Management System, it has never been easier for schools to post instructional materials that are used in the classroom. Finally, teachers are not punished for teaching controversial subjects. Teachers can face disciplinary actions if they fail to teach concepts in a fair and impartial manner, but the bill gives teachers a process for an appeal.

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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".

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

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In response to the bill, Democratic state representative Jermaine L. Johnson Sr. of Richland County suggested he would file a bill banning the discussion of slave masters. However, his statement evidently indicates a sarcastic comment.

“If we’re afraid of teaching children about things that could cause discomfort, then we need to add slave owners to the list,” Johnson said. “Many people find this topic uncomfortable and upsetting, especially the grandparents of children who lived through the Civil Rights Movement and had relatives who were slaves themselves. We should protect our children from being exposed to this evil by sweeping it under the rug and never addressing it.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina similarly opposed the bill, saying similar laws passed in other states "led to the chilling of educator speech and misrepresentation of American history". The group called on those opposed to the bill to either share written testimony or attend Tuesday's committee hearing in person.

The hearing began around 2 p.m. at the Blatt Building.

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