State Senate Democrats walk out of hearing over bill to ban teaching about systemic racism

Critics say the bill would prevent teachers from discussing the impact of racism

Jun 7, 2022 at 2:50 pm
Sens. Erika Geiss (left) and Dayna Polehanki. - Courtesy photos
Courtesy photos
Sens. Erika Geiss (left) and Dayna Polehanki.

Two Democratic state senators walked out of a committee hearing Tuesday in protest of a bill that critics say will prevent teachers from frankly discussing racism in classrooms.

Sens. Erika Geiss, D-Taylor, and Sen. Dayna Polehanki, who are both former teachers, said they refused to participate in the Senate Education and Career Readiness Committee, where Republicans were advocating the passage of House Bill 5097.

The bill, which passed the House in November, would prohibit schools from teaching any curriculum that includes the “promotion of any form of race or gender stereotyping or anything that could be understood as implicit race or gender stereotyping.”

In November, House Democrats walked out of a meeting after Republican leadership prevented Rep. Cynthia Johnson, D-Detroit, who is Black, from addressing the legislation.

“I’m tired of white legislators lecturing black people that the U.S. is post-racial and that things like ‘privilege’ or ‘oppression’ based on race no longer exist,” Polehanki, a former teacher, tweeted after walking out of the meeting. “These bills are designed to terrify teachers into avoiding any meaningful discussion about racial discrimination.”

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission in November passed a resolution opposing the legislation, saying it “provides for censorship for educators and gives students an inaccurate and incomplete account of the history of the United States.”

Geiss, who is Black and was an adjunct faculty member in the humanities at Wayne County Community College District, said the legislation “is remarkably not serious.”

“House Bill 5097 is not a serious bill from a serious person, and to entertain it devalues our work here as legislators and as former educators,” Geiss said in a statement. “This bill does nothing to address the pressing issues we have in education policy while wasting time and stirring up the hysterical conspiracy theorists of their base.”

The legislation is part of a growing movement by Republicans nationwide to prevent schools from teaching about the impact of systemic racism.

Polehanki added that the bill, introduced by Rep. Andrew Beeler, R-Port Huron, is an attempt by white lawmakers to falsely argue that “the United State is post-racial and that things like ‘privilege’ or ‘oppression’ based on race no longer exist.”

“Rep. Beeler’s bill is yet another in a long line of ‘happy history’ bills introduced by Republicans, which are designed to terrify teachers into avoiding any meaningful discussion about racial discrimination on pain of losing their jobs or causing school funding to be withheld,” Polehanki said in a statement.

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