A bill that would ban critical race theory from being taught in public schools overwhelmingly passed the North Dakota House of Representatives on Thursday after nearly an hour of debate.
House debate on other culture war issues, including bills to restrict vaccination mandates and allow the use of ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment, was continuing late into the night Thursday.
House Bill 1508, proposed by Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, now goes to the Senate. It would ban teaching the academic theory, which centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions and that they function to maintain the dominance of white people in society. The lawmaker has called the academic theory “insidious” and said the goal of the legislation is to protect children from inappropriate topics.
"Our parents are seeing these types of ideas, these types of concepts in critical race theory being brought home by their children," he said Thursday.
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Rep. Terry Jones, R-New Town, likened allowing critical race theory in schools to poisoning children.
Bill supporters said the theory is already being taught in some schools. Whether that's the case isn't clear. State Department of Public Instruction spokesman Dale Wetzel told the Tribune that the agency doesn't keep track of curriculum in individual K-12 school districts in the state. Neither Bismarck Public Schools nor Mandan Public Schools teaches critical race theory or has any plans to do so, according to district officials.
North Dakota University System spokeswoman Billie Jo Lorius told the Tribune that while there are no critical race theory programs across the system of 11 public colleges and universities, "the NDUS does not track or approve courses or curriculum within courses."
Though he voted for the bill, Rep. David Richter, R-Williston, during earlier committee discussion said he dealt with critical race theory in higher education and that the academic definition and the one being used politically are different.
Opponents of the bill cited First Amendment concerns and said the lack of penalties for violating the proposed law undermined the Legislature's authority.
Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, D-Fargo, said the bill would limit teachers' rights to free speech and that it would cause confusion in schools because of differing understandings of what critical race theory is.
The lack of penalties included in the bill were an issue for Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks. The bill includes a provision that allows the superintendent of public instruction to make rules around critical race theory in schools.
"I am not comfortable with us delegating that authority with optional rulemaking to the executive branch," he said. "If it is this severe, we are the legislative branch. We are the policymaking branch. We should be establishing the guidelines."
Rep. Shannon Roers Jones, R-Fargo, proposed turning the bill into an interim study during earlier committee discussion of the legislation, but her motion failed.
She said on the House floor Thursday that the issue needed more study and should be discussed during a full legislative session. But the House voted 76-16 to pass the bill.
The Legislature is meeting in a special session to redraw legislative districts and decide how to spend federal coronavirus aid, but legislators also have introduced bills dealing with culture war issues such as critical race theory, vaccine mandates and dubitable COVID-19 treatments.
Reach Sam Nelson at 701-250-8264 or email@example.com.