RICHMOND, Va. — House Bill 781, proposed by Del. Wren Williams, has garnered a lot of attention in the last week. The initial social media response, was to poke fun at an inaccuracy.
The bill referenced the historic debate between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglass, but instead wrote Frederick Douglass. On Friday, the Virginia Division of Legislative Services claimed responsibility for the mistake.
With the punchlines passing, increasingly the attention is being placed on the actual proposals of the bill. Many teachers have taken to social media to express their outrage with the proposal, claiming that teachers could face misdemeanor charges, if they fail to follow the bill.
Let's Verify what's actually in the bill.
Does H.B. 781 propose that teachers should face a misdemeanor charge if they "knowingly and intentionally" violate provisions of the bill?
- House Bill No. 781, Prefiled Jan. 11, 2022
- Del. Wren Williams, R-Patrick
Yes. Among other things, H.B. 781 would mandate that teachers do not "teach or incorporate into any course or class any 'divisive concept.'"
If these teachers "knowingly and intentionally" violate the provisions of the bill, they could face a Class 4 misdemeanor, punishable by up to $250. If this bill became law, teachers could also face termination or have their license revoked for such action.
WHAT WE KNOW:
Central to House Bill 781 is an understanding of the term "divisive concept," which is defined in detail in the proposed bill.
School board members can be punished for instructing their staff to teach "divisive concepts," and teachers can face consequences for talking to their students about "divisive concepts."
The bill offered the following 12 examples of "divisive concepts."
- One race, religion, ethnicity, or sex is inherently superior to another race, religion, ethnicity, or sex;
- An individual, by virtue of the individual's race, religion, ethnicity, or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously;
- An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of the individual's race, religion, ethnicity, or sex;
- Members of one race, religion, ethnicity, or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race, religion, ethnicity, or sex;
- An individual's moral character is necessarily determined by the individual's race, religion, ethnicity, or sex;
- An individual, by virtue of the individual's race, religion, ethnicity, or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, religion, ethnicity, or sex;
- An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual's race, religion, ethnicity, or sex;
- Meritocracy, punctuality, proper language usage, free markets, and traits such as strong work ethic are racist or sexist or were created by members of a particular race to oppress members of another race;
- The ideology of equity of outcomes is superior to the ideology of equality, a concept enshrined in the Constitution of the United States, of opportunities;
- Mathematics and scientific empiricism are products of western civilization and thus are rooted in racism;
- The Commonwealth or the United States is fundamentally or systemically racist or sexist; or
- Capitalism, free markets, free industry, and other related economic systems are inherently racist.
The proposed bill would create punishments for those who violate the bill, reading as follows:
"Any individual, including any school board member, who knowingly and intentionally violates any provision of this section is guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor and, in the case of a school board employee, may be terminated or, as applicable, have his license revoked or suspended in accordance with all relevant policies, regulations, and laws."
A Class 4 misdemeanor carries a fine of up to $250 in Virginia.
The bill was introduced on Jan. 11, and has received major backlash from teachers on social media.
The proposed bill has many other provisions, garnering attention in the Commonwealth, including the following:
- Prohibits school boards from hiring an "equity director," a "diversity director" or any other similar positions that would include "any activity that would result in a violation of a provision of this section."
- Mandates that instructional materials (textbooks, reading materials, videos, digital materials, websites and other online applications) and activities (assemblies, guest lectures, and other education events) should be prominently listed on a "publicly accessible portion of its website by July 1, preceding the upcoming school year."
- Allows for parents to request a voucher to pay for their child's education elsewhere, if a school board employee has "persistently, knowingly, and intentionally violated any provision of this act."
The bill also mandates that school boards incorporate certain founding documents into the curriculum, including the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Federalist Papers, excerpts from Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, and the famous debate between Lincoln and Douglas.
Evan Koslof spoke with Del. Wren Williams about the proposed bill, asking about the outrage from many teachers at home.