Students work at their desks during a geometry class at Chapa Middle School in Kyle on Aug. 24, 2021. Credit: Jordan Vonderhaar for The Texas Tribune

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As the Texas Legislature’s special session wound down Thursday, lawmakers sent Gov. Greg Abbott a reworked version of the GOP’s so-called “critical race theory” bill, which aims to restrict how race and history are taught in schools.

After a 81-43 vote Thursday afternoon in the Texas House, the bill went to the Senate, where lawmakers quickly accepted the House’s changes. The bill heads to Abbott with significant changes from what the Senate originally approved in early August.

Abbott had already signed into law a “critical race theory” bill during the regular session but declared at the time that more needs to be done to “abolish” critical race theory in Texas classrooms. The current law, House Bill 3979, already restricts how current events and America’s history of racism can be taught in Texas schools but also includes provisions authored by Democrats that required teaching that white supremacy is morally wrong and required readings from prominent people of color in American history.

If Abbott signs Senate Bill 3, it would replace that law. The new legislation would require at least one teacher and one campus administrator at each school to undergo a civics training program. Teachers could not be forced to discuss current controversial topics in the classroom, but if they do, they must not show any political bias.

The advent of slavery in America could not be taught as representing the true founding of the United States, but rather a “deviation” from American principles, according to the bill. Students also couldn’t be required to learn about the New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning 1619 Project, which aims to put “the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.”

The bill would prohibit students from receiving credit for interning at political campaigns or interning for companies or organizations where they will be lobbying or a part of the lobbying shop.

Any school district that uses an online portal to assign learning material would be required to give parents access.

Neither the original bill or the new one, SB 3, mention critical race theory or how it is taught in schools, however.

Critical race theory is an academic discipline that holds that racism is inherent in societal systems that broadly perpetuate racial inequity. In 2021, Republicans in the Texas Legislature seized on a national movement to ban the teaching of the theory. When a prior version of the bill passed the Senate earlier this summer, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick declared that critical race theory teaches that “one race is better than another and that someone, by virtue of their race or sex, is innately racist, oppressive or sexist.” But academic experts say GOP leaders have misrepresented the tenets of the framework, which many teachers say is not being taught in Texas schools anyway.

State Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, added amendments to the bill that protect teachers from any lawsuits, but school districts have the authority to ensure compliance. Huberty also added back reading requirements for students, including works from people of color. In the original conception of SB 3, author Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, stripped required readings that Abbott’s original law included.

Hughes’ original bill also removed the requirement to teach students about the history of white supremacy — including institutions such as slavery, the eugenics movement and the Ku Klux Klan — as morally wrong. Lawmakers added this requirement to SB 3 on Thursday.

Huberty claimed Thursday that the amendments added made the bill better and defended state Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, the chair of the House Public Education Committee, for getting the bill to the House floor.

But still, for Democrats, the bill is unnecessary.

Rep. Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin, said the measure is an effort to continue micromanaging teachers and a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. Instead, legislators should have been focusing on issues that teachers say they have, she said.

“Please, go ask your social studies teacher, ‘What can we do to support you in your job?’” she told her colleagues during a two-hour debate. “My guess is they ask for a reduction in the required testing and paperwork, an increase in their pay and more latitude in what they teach and say in the classroom.”

Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, said SB 3 is a “blatant attempt to censor valuable education in our classrooms and whitewash our history.”

“Erasing an uncomfortable reality of our past does not benefit our students with the knowledge they need to understand the present to work towards a better future,” he said.

Jonathan Feinstein, the Education Trust Texas state director, said in a statement that while the amendments added Thursday are a good faith effort to mitigate the harm of the legislation, there is still work to do when it comes to protecting students’ right to learn and educators’ freedom to teach an accurate and truthful history, including the country’s history of racism.

“Texans must be more engaged than ever in their local schools to ensure this legislation is not misinterpreted, misused or abused to threaten or punish teachers and students for confronting the hard parts of our shared history and seeking to create a better future,” Feinstein said in a statement.

Disclosure: Education Trust and New York Times have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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