Residents, advocates blast ‘transparency’ bill as targeting teachers, erasing history – Charleston Gazette-Mail


Everyone knows !

An overwhelming majority of people who spoke during a public hearing Wednesday on a proposed “curriculum transparency” bill said they opposed the bill.Twenty-six residents spoke directly to lawmakers on the House floor, with 24 people opposing House Bill 4011, and two people speaking in favor. The proposed bill, which now sits in the House Judiciary committee after swiftly passing through the House Education Committee, would require public school teachers to publicly post topics relating to race, sex and other matters if they teach about them in class.The hearing lasted one hour, with each speaker getting two minutes to address lawmakers.The last of the 26 speakers, Sage Blymyer, was the only child who addressed lawmakers Tuesday. A fifth-grade student at Lewisburg Elementary School in Greenbrier County, Blymyer said she enjoys learning history so people don’t repeat the same mistakes made throughout American history.“I can feel sad about it, but it doesn’t make me feel bad about who I am,” Blymyer said.Blymyer said she fears that, with passage of the bill, her teacher could get in trouble for appropriately teaching the mistreatment of minority groups in American history and that there is still work to do in ensuring a better future for everyone. She asked lawmakers not to pass it.“I really like my teacher,” Blymyer said.Nicole McCormick said she is a mother to four school-aged children. She asked lawmakers to consider what effect a similar bill would have if it were in place during the civil rights era. She said it would have even further delayed society’s acceptance of children who do not look or think like them, and public schools have always been integral in accepting children for who they are.“[Public] schools were among the first institutions to integrate after segregation, and schools have become havens for LGBTQ+ students before there was wider acceptance in the community for those populations,” McCormick said.Kaylen Barker, who also is a mother to a school-aged child, said Republican lawmakers want to ignore history. West Virginians should never forget the United States enslaved an entire race of people and that they should not shield their eyes to institutional racism she said exists today.“History is supposed to make us feel uncomfortable. It’s supposed to elicit critical thinking and make us better understand the world we live in,” Barker said. “If children of color are strong enough to deal with racism, your children are strong enough to learn about it.”Jenny Santilli, a professor at Fairmont State University who said she taught in West Virginia public schools for 38 years, told lawmakers they were hamstringing educators and ultimately hurting students by pushing the bill. Students welcome controversial issues in the classroom, she said, and inserting fear into classrooms will further contribute to the state’s population decline.“Unlike some adults supporting this bill, [children] are mature and smart enough to handle the truth,” Santilli said. “You are encouraging educators to leave the state.”Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said the bill places further responsibility on already-overworked public school teachers. He said it’s important for parents to be involved in education but that this bill goes way beyond that, and it spits in the face of teachers.“What this bill will do is put fear in educators,” he said. “Our profession deserves respect.”Fred Albert, president of the American Federation of Teachers in West Virginia, said lawmakers are well on their way to furthering already-existing teacher vacancies.“This bill is a political football to siphon support from public schools, and [is] nothing more than a vehicle to divide and distract constituents during an election year,” Albert said. “It does nothing to address the real issues in public education, such as the teacher shortage or the pandemic challenges facing our students.”HB 4011 has been labeled by opponents as a stealth bill disguised to center a red-meat issue for radical Republicans, who those opponents say have obsessed over manufactured “critical race theory” outrage in conservative media since last year.Three Black West Virginians spoke Tuesday.The Rev. Ron English, president of the Charleston NAACP branch, likened the bill to another race-based outrage that greeted him when he first moved from Atlanta to Charleston nearly 50 years ago: the infamous Kanawha County textbook controversy.“This is the rerun,” English said.But back then, English said, there was collaboration among the different sides near the very end of the battle. Today, he said, that is not the case.English said he was also appalled to see Republican lawmakers invoking the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the process of this bill’s discussion. English grew up in the same church as King and delivered a prayer at his funeral.Yvonne Lee, a social worker and therapist in Charleston, said it’s appalling to hear people say white privilege is controversial. Lee said she is from Los Angeles, but her children attended West Virginia public schools. She said it’s insulting to assume Black children will learn basic American history and use it to their advantage in society.“I’m appalled when people sit up here and say that we are taught to discriminate to get by easy,” Lee said.Lee also works for Fairness West Virginia, a statewide LGBTQ+ advocacy organization, where she cares for the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth. She told lawmakers not to take away one of the only safe havens available for them.Kathy Ferguson, of Dunbar, called out Delegate Caleb Hanna, R-Nicholas, who sat in the first row near the speaker’s podium Tuesday. Ferguson brought up Hanna’s comments from years ago, when he said he wanted to attend West Virginia State University, a historically Black university, partially to learn about his Black history.“And yet, this person is now a cheerleader for this bill? Go figure — or maybe not,” Ferguson said.Hanna was the delegate who abruptly ended debate on the bill in the education committee last Thursday, ultimately forcing its vote.The Rev. Jeffrey Allen, executive director for the West Virginia Council of Churches, told lawmakers that controversial topics are discussed frequently in Sunday school and that it’s vital these events are not glossed over in the church setting or in public schools.“Why does the Bible mention all of those failings? So we can learn from them,” Allen said.Barry Holstein, a BridgeValley Community and Technical College Board of Governors member, and Mila Knoll, a candidate for the Kanawha County Board of Education, were the two supporters of the bill. Holstein said he objected to certain materials used in classrooms from the Southern Poverty Law Center that serve to create division among people. Knoll said minority children will use past oppression to get by easy in life, and asked lawmakers to pass the bill.

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