Kentucky students rallied against bills that would limit discussions of race in the classroom at the state Capitol on Thursday.
The Republican-led legislature appears poised to take up the measures during this year’s session after years of backlash from conservatives distressed by diversity and inclusion efforts in schools and much of American society.
Pragya Upreti, a senior at Lafayette High School in Lexington and member of the Kentucky Student Voice Team, said the bills would undermine the state’s ability to educate young people.
“In order to constructively engage across lines of difference, Kentucky students need and deserve to learn accurate history, to practice having challenging conversations in our classrooms so we can be prepared to address injustice beyond that,” Upreti said.
Two bills are at issue. One would apply just to K-12 public schools and fine districts up to $5,000 per violation, the other would apply to K-12 schools and state colleges and universities, expose the institutions to lawsuits and make them liable for damages up to $100,000.
Both the measures include model language featured in similar bills across the country that would ban teachers from talking about race in ways that make students feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.”
Dr. Jeni Ward Bolander, a teacher at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, said teachers have to have tough conversations about race in classrooms, like when talking about the Civil Rights Movement.
“We might read some really uncomfortable stuff in here like buses are going to be blown up, kids are going to die, they’re going to be hosed, churches are going to be bombed. That’s nothing we’re comfortable with,” Bolander said.
“We’ve done some awful things in our history but if we don’t learn better, we’re never going to do better.”
Tyler Terrell, an eighth-grader at Leestown Middle School in Lexington, said the schools’ failure to teach more diverse versions of history made him feel irrelevant, as a Black-Korean Kentuckian.
“It made me think my history was somehow less than that of others. It made me think that white history was the superior one,” Terrell said.
“I’ve heard people say why isn’t there a white history month? And what I want to tell them is that you think of white history every day.”