Crabtree Thayn

Sens. Carl Crabtree and Steven Thayn at the Senate Education Committee hearing on HB 377 on Monday, April 26, 2021.

The Senate Education Committee has voted 6-3 in favor of HB 377, the House-passed education policy bill regarding “critical race theory." Immediately afterward, the full Senate suspended its rules and took up the bill in the full Senate.

During the committee hearing, Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, said, “This bill deals with a concern that some have over indoctrination of our students. ... I believe that none of us want to send our students to school and be indoctrinated. So what this is about is to try to do more to teach our kids how to think than what to think.”

“The legislation is not intended to be punitive,” Crabtree said. “I have told my school people that you’re going to see very little if any effect from this, probably none, because you’re already providing a balanced education, and I would contend most of our students in Idaho are receiving a balanced education, this bill will not affect them. We hear a lot of stories from other states, things coming from the federal government and all that. … This may be more of a proactive idea of things that may be coming than it is a solution to problems we already have.”

He said the bill is a compromise, with about 20 lawmakers involved in crafting it and none of them fully satisfied, with the idea of clearing a path to pass the stalled public school budget in the House.

Twelve people testified at the committee hearing, with just two in favor of the bill, eight strongly against, and two neutral, including Andy Grover, head of the Idaho Association of School Administrators. Earlier versions of the bill, Grover said, were perceived as “a huge … slap in our face to point a finger at us and say we’re indoctrinating kids.”

As for HB 377, he said, “We’ve stayed neutral on it as we’ve heard this is the one to finally get our budgets through and push those through, because we’re working in late April,” and school districts’ budgeting deadlines for the next school year are approaching. He said school administrators still have misgivings about the bill, which forbids public schools in Idaho from kindergarten through graduate school from compelling students to adhere to three principles about discrimination, including that people of one race are superior or inferior to another, and threatens removal of funding if such practices occur.

“But overall … this legislation covers pretty much what’s in current practice now,” Grover said.

College students, teachers and parents spoke out against the bill. “We have huge issues. This is not one of them,” said teacher Julie Davis. Tracy Olson of Boise said her kids attended public school, as has everyone in her extended family. “We have never heard of any outcry over the indoctrination of students,” she said. “This is a made-up crisis, this does not exist.”

Former Idaho Teacher of the Year Sonia Galaviz, who teaches 5th grade at Garfield Elementary School in Boise, told the senators, “I would be happy to host you any time to see how we address critical conversations and teach critical thinking, not critical race theory, in public schools.”

Terry Ryan, CEO of Bluum, an education non-profit, speaking in favor of the bill, said, “The language before you now represents a reasonable compromise. Is it perfect? No. But neither are any of us.”

Committee Chairman Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, cut off testimony after a dozen people, though about 15 more had signed up to testify, because the Senate was due to reconvene at 3 p.m. Voting "yes" on the bill were Sens. Thayn, Crabtree, Cook, Lent and Woodward. Voting "no" were Sens. Nelson, Ward-Engelking and Johnson.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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