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Nebraska lawmakers to debate how race is taught in public schools

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Eric Galatas

(Nebraska News Connection) Since January of last year, following national unrest over the police killing of George Floyd, 37 states have introduced measures designed to restrict how teachers can talk about race in the classroom.

Nebraska lawmakers are scheduled to debate a similar proposal today, which would place a long list of restrictions on educators and government agencies.

Jenni Benson, president of the Nebraska State Education Association, said Legislative Bill 1077 is a solution in search of a problem. She pointed out because it is so broadly written, it would cause major disruptions for teachers and school districts.

"We really are concerned about a lot of the restrictions that it would place on how you would be able to teach an inclusive and accurate history of this country," Benson stated.

Sen. Ben Hansen, R-Blair, introduced the bill, which would allow the state to withhold funding if schools violate the restrictions. Critics of the measure say it would violate teachers' First Amendment rights, and warned it would produce a profound chilling effect among educators amounting to censorship. The bill also would restrict how government agencies conduct staff diversity and inclusiveness training.

Benson sees the bill as an attack on the professionalism of the state's teachers and administrators, essentially not trusting them to follow standards adopted locally by democratically elected school boards.

She added as the state grapples with staffing shortages, the measure would make it harder to attract and keep talented teachers.

"It is definitely going to be part of the teacher shortage, of the staffing shortage, because everything is under a microscope," Benson observed.

The bill comes on the heels of increasingly heated debates over Critical Race Theory (CRT). Benson noted the largely misunderstood graduate-level legal theory has never been taught in Nebraska's public schools.

CRT separates racism from individuals, arguing the nation's long-standing inequities must be dealt with by making changes to systems designed to deny equal opportunities to Americans of color.

Support for this reporting was provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.