Despite strong opposition to legislation that would prevent teachers from using a controversial education theory, Gov. Kevin Stitt signed the bill into law on Friday.
Stitt signed State House Bill 1775 that would prohibit public schoolteachers from teaching that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another,” and that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive.”
Proponents of the bill said the measure is designed to prevent the teaching of the so-called “Critical Race Theory.”
It’s not clear if the theory (which examines the way race and racism influence American politics, legal systems and society) is currently being taught in any Oklahoma schools.
Opponents said the bill will discourage difficult and meaningful discussions about race and has the potential to whitewash America’s complex racial history.
Some Oklahoma school officials and prominent Black community and faith leaders urged Gov., Stitt to veto State HB 1775 sponsored by State Rep. Kevin West (Rep., Moore) and State Sen. David Bullard (Rep., Durant).
“Now more than ever, we need policies that bring us closer together, not rip us apart,” Gov. Stitt said in a video message.
“As governor, I firmly believe that not one cent of taxpayer money should be used to define and divide young Oklahomans by their race or sex. That is what this bill upholds for public education.”
In the video, Gov. Stitt said State HB 1775 clearly endorses that teachers educate based on the Oklahoma Academic Standards, which include the Oklahoma City bombing, Trail of Tears, Tulsa Race Massacre and the emergence of Black Wall Street.
The bill explicitly states that nothing in the new law prevents instructors from teaching concepts that align with the state’s academic standards, proponents said.
“We can, and should, teach this history without labeling a young child as an ‘oppressor’ or requiring he or she feel guilt or shame based on their race or sex,” the governor continued.
“I refuse to tolerate otherwise.”
The governor’s comments were swiftly criticized after he invoked the words of Martin Luther King Jr. to explain why he signed the bill that has been criticized by many Black Oklahomans.
Gov. Stitt also signed an executive order directed at the State Board of Education and State Regents for Higher Education to clarify the law.
He wrote, “I declare that it is my intent that no topic of our history or present inequalities are to be hidden from view.”
Some university leaders also opposed the measure that prevents Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities from requiring students “engage in any form of mandatory gender or sexual diversity training.”
Joseph Harroz, president of the University of Oklahoma, in a Thursday e-mail to faculty and staff, said key university administrators have advocated against State HB 1775 since it was introduced in the Legislature.
“It runs contrary to the goals we have laid out for ourselves as part of our Strategic Plan, and the initiatives we have established to make OU a place of true belonging for all,” Mr. Harroz wrote.
“As an institution of higher learning, we are a fertile ground for the exchange of free ideas and the celebration of all forms of diversity.
“This bill, should it be passed, will not limit our efforts to continue honoring academic freedom and fostering an inclusive environment.”
The Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission urged the governor to veto the bill, saying it could have serious implications on how the massacre is taught in state schools.
“No matter how poorly written, the intention of the bill clearly aims to limit teaching the racial implications of America’s history,” the commission said in a statement. “The bill serves no purpose than to fuel the racism and denial that afflicts our communities and our nation. It is a sad day and a stain on Oklahoma.”
Proponents praised the governor for signing the bill.
“I have seen many shifts in curriculum, such as pedagogy and critical thinking models” State Sen. Bullard, a history teacher, said.
“Unfortunately, there is a disturbing trend that has currently found its way into both higher education and in K-12. Too many schools and institutions have stopped focusing on high quality education and, instead, have turned to a policy of indoctrination.”
Because of an emergency clause on the legislation, the bill takes effect immediately.