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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A lawmaker co-sponsoring a measure that some educators fear would limit their ability to teach about racial issues says it is “proper” for the state to set educational curricula, which are currently under the purview of school-based councils.

Rep. Jennifer Decker, a Waddy Republican who sits on the House Education Committee, was part of a Louisville Forum discussion Wednesday with University of Louisville Louis D. Brandeis School of Law professor Cedric Powell about whether critical race theory should be taught in schools.

It was the first in-person gathering of the Louisville Forum since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Decker is a co-sponsor of a pre-filed bill that would prohibit the promotion of concepts like racial, gender or religious superiority; inherent racism; that people should feel discomfort or guilt based on their race, gender or religion; and that people should be responsible for the actions of their forebears based on their race, gender or religion in public K-12 schools and universities.

The proposal is one of many filed or passed in several states following newfound opposition to critical race theory, a decades-old academic concept that examines the impact of racism in U.S. laws and institutions.

Critical race theory has emerged as a catch-all term for opposition to efforts like racial equity, diversity training and similar concepts, and opponents have recently descended on school board meetings in Jefferson and Oldham counties.

“We’re in the midst of a third reconstruction, of serious racial turmoil, existential political strife and retrogression deceptively packaged as a fight for America’s patriotic values,” Powell said. “… We’re in the midst of a racial reckoning.”

Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass and Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Marty Pollio recently testified before state senators and representatives on their respective education committees in opposition to the pre-filed bill and said they were not aware of critical race theory making its way into public school classrooms.

Decker said the proposal, which may be amended to specifically ban teaching critical race theory, is meant to prohibit “state-sponsored promotion in public education of the entire social justice concept of CRT and its progeny.”

“If you are teaching curriculum and teaching, you should be teaching those core principles, not social justice, so our bill is seeking to stop the indoctrination,” she said.

Powell said critical race theory should not be taught in K-12 public schools. However, he sees the current push as an attempt to “undermine teaching of any comprehensive history of America.”

“What I've tried to do is make America better by rejecting all of these stereotypes and fictitious notions of history,” said Powell, who teaches critical race theory to his law students.

K-12 educators, Decker said, do not have free speech rights but instead “follow a curriculum set by the state.”

“That is compelled speech,” said Decker, an attorney. “It is compulsory education.”

The Kentucky Board of Education and Kentucky Department of Education do not set curricula for schools but instead passes academic standards by which schools must use in establishing their curricula through decision-making councils.

The state sends school districts a model curriculum framework that helps guide the development of instructional programming.  

“It is proper for the state to set the curriculum,” Decker said in response to a question regarding potential constitutional challenges to the pre-filed bill. “… The legislature has a great role to play in legislating what happens in K-12 schools.”

Powell believes the “hopelessly overbroad and vague” bill will be deemed unconstitutional if it becomes law.

“The reason you don't mention critical race theory is because the state cannot be involved in content regulation,” he said, adding his belief that enforcement will be problematic if the bill is passed.

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