The chairman of the House Education Committee shelved his own bill Tuesday that would ban colleges and public schools from teaching "divisive concepts," including that Louisiana or the United States is racist or sexist or that students should be made to feel guilty about their race.
"The problem is politics in the classroom," said Rep. Ray Garofalo, R-Chalmette, chairman of the committee and sponsor of the legislation. "It is important that we address the issue."
But Garofalo said at the outset of an acrimonious hearing that he would delay a vote on the bill until "another time" after House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, expressed concerns, including whether the Legislature can tell colleges what they can teach.
The plan sparked opposition from the Legislative Black Caucus, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and others during a nearly five-hour hearing.
Rep. Gary Carter, D-New Orleans, a committee member, narrowly failed in his unusual effort to kill the bill despite the chairman's plea to let him keep it alive in hopes he can work out a compromise.
The vote was 7-7, which meant Carter's motion failed and the measure remains alive for the session, if barely.
The proposal is House Bill 564.
Sandy Holloway, president of BESE, said the legislation would encroach on curriculum that is best left to educators closest to the students. "It threatens the ability of our teachers to be honest and tell the truth to our students," Holloway told the committee.
Rep. Aimee Freeman, D-New Orleans, a member of the committee, said she would oppose the measure. "I cannot imagine not teaching all of the facts about history," Freeman said.
She said she has not heard of any Louisiana students who have been the targets of politically biased instruction in the classroom.
The legislation stems in part from a panel discussion at LSU earlier this year called "White Rage" targeting Black people.
The Louisiana lawmaker who oversees all legislation affecting LSU raised pointed concerns about an academic panel discussion, slated to begin …
Garofalo wrote a letter to Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed at the time asking whether she or the state Board of Regents had taken a position on "White Rage."
LSU officials said then that the discussion was about an academic study, entitled "White Rage," and was one presentation in a series that cover the political spectrum.
Garofalo said changes are needed because classrooms are being filled with ideologies promoted by teachers, including critical race theory that he said stems from Marxism and a view that "furthers racism and fuels hate."
"Critical theory weakens the family, the education community and the work environment," he said.
The lawmaker said he has heard from countless parents and students complaining about what is being taught but they are reluctant to say so publicly because of concerns about retribution.
"This bill does not say anything about teaching facts," Garofalo said.
"You can teach the good, the bad, the ugly," he said. "But you cannot say that theories are facts. You can teach facts as facts. You can teach theories as theories."
In one exchange, Garofalo said there could be a classroom discussion of slavery, for instance.
"You can talk about everything dealing with slavery. The good. The bad. The ugly."
Said Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, R-Metairie: "There is no good to slavery, though."
Replied Garofalo: "You are right. I didn't mean to imply that. And don't believe that."
In a statement, the Legislative Black Caucus said HB564 "intentionally hinders the type of open, fair, authentic and truthful dialogue that is critical to our educational institutions that are meant to teach."
"Our schools are meant to cultivate the critical thinking skills that our young people need to make well-informed decisions about their lives and their future," the group said. "How can they do this if bills that are passed through the sacred halls of this legislative body that purposefully silence the voices of our students?"
Others who took part in the parade of opponents were leaders of public schools in New Orleans, Stand for Children, an advocacy group, and the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools.
The proposal was backed by two members of the Heritage Foundation, which calls itself the leading voice of conservatives, and Claston Bernard, a Republican and a Gonzales businessman who made an unsuccessful bid for the 2nd congressional district seat.
Garofalo said the bill is based largely on legislation in Florida and Iowa.