Against teacher censorship
This should go without saying, but apparently it needs saying
Hey y’all — quick request. Lawmakers here in South Carolina are on the verge of passing House Bill 3728, a teacher censorship bill that seeks to shut down classroom discussions of history, race, and gender (it’s the same one I spoke against at the Statehouse in March). I’d love it if you joined me today or tomorrow morning in calling or writing to the lawmakers who are in a position to kill this bill.
My friends at Pro Truth South Carolina and the Charleston Jewish Federation have a handy form you can fill out to call or email the relevant legislators. Click here to fill it out. They have some suggested text. I’ve also written a few talking points that I’ll share below if you are interested.
Thanks in advance if you take the time to do this. I am so, so tired of my state’s most powerful people attacking the schools where my children go to learn and my teacher friends go to work. Just today, Gov. Henry McMaster signed a law that will funnel public school funds to private, religious schools. This is not only unconstitutional but profoundly immoral.
We still have a chance to stop the teacher censorship bill. I don’t know if they are listening to us, but we have to try.
South Carolina House Bill 3728, the “Transparency and Integrity in Education Act,” is first and foremost a teacher censorship bill. If signed into law, it would threaten teachers’ careers for straying from the hard-right party line on matters of race, history, and gender.
That fact alone would be enough to oppose the bill, particularly at a time when the teacher shortage is beyond the point of crisis. But the bill would do much, much more than that.
House Bill 3728 would bury entire school districts in new layers of bureaucracy to enforce the speech codes. If it passes into law, expect an onslaught of litigation and mandatory internal investigations triggered by “parent advocacy” organizations that would be deputized into action as speech police.
Here’s what you need to know:
Like any speech code drafted by a single political party to silence its perceived opponents, this bill demands ideological purity. Section 59-29-620 includes a long, vaguely worded list of “prohibited concepts.”
The concept of “meritocracy,” which is not defined in the bill, would be enshrined in law as an unquestionable fact. Teachers would face punishment for suggesting that “an individual … is privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously.” Library books would need to be vetted as “age appropriate” according to new criteria to be established by the State Board of Education, and not by the criteria of media center professionals.
As punishment for a perceived infraction of these vague and arbitrary speech codes, the State Board of Education would have the authority to strip a teacher of their teaching certificate. The board would also punish offending school districts by withholding up to 5% of state funding. The state would punish all of our children to silence teachers who are brave enough to speak the truth.
Restricting teacher training
The instruction received by educators, in the form of professional development, would also be subject to censorship.
Schools would be prohibited from requiring staff to attend training on “gender roles or stereotypes, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, or romantic or sexual relationships” [Section 59-29-620(C)]. These topics are unavoidable in schools and are fundamental to the work of school counselors, along with any other school and district staff who would seek to understand students’ needs.
New layers of bureaucracy
Entire new departments and unknown staffing hours would be required to enforce the speech purity codes in this bill. Each school district would have to establish procedures for parents to review and challenge instructional materials and provide “alternative educational instruction” for students whose parents object to any part of a course for any reason [Section 59-29-650(A)(5)].
Every teacher would have to post curriculum and instruction materials to a public-facing district website 7 days before the start of the school year, and would be required to update the website 3 days prior to introducing any new material during the school year [Section 59-29-650(A)]. This requirement is onerous, inflexible, and designed to open every classroom in the state to the scrutiny of Moms for Liberty, the South Carolina Freedom Caucus, and any other self-appointed censors with the time on their hands to undermine teachers.
An onslaught of lawsuits
This bill would lead to a pile-on of lawsuits against school districts. We know this because many of the bill’s sponsors in the South Carolina Freedom Caucus have used similar reasoning to sue the school districts of Lexington 1 and Charleston County for alleged insertion of “critical race theory” into a successful literacy curriculum. They are doing this after releasing a doctored sting video of a curriculum provider talking about “culturally relevant pedagogy.”
The basis of these lawsuits is a censorship clause slipped into annual state budgets for the last two years. The 8-part definition of so-called “partisanship curriculum” in the relevant budget proviso [2022-23 Appropriation Act, Proviso 1.93] is similar to the 7-point list of “prohibited concepts” in House Bill 3728.
The bill would create a “private cause of action,” a common provision in the wave of censorship bills introduced in state legislatures across the country. It would allow any parent or guardian to sue any school district for a perceived violation of the censorship rules. These self-appointed censors would have the authority to sue schools without even attempting to bring their concerns to the district first, and districts who lose these lawsuits would have to pay their accusers’ legal fees. [Section 59-29-680]
Superficially, this bill appeals to neutral values such as transparency, integrity, and avoiding discrimination. A closer inspection reveals it for what it is: A direct attack by aggrieved partisans against professional educators.
This bill sows distrust and division while empowering moneyed interest groups to exact revenge against their perceived enemies in the classroom. It mandates the micromanagement of teachers. The people who stand to lose the most are the children of South Carolina, who will grow up with an impoverished view of the world unless we stand with teachers now and fight back. Please reject House Bill 3728 and all bills like it.