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Governor Vetoes North Carolina Bill Limiting K-12 Racial Teaching

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper speaks at a news conference Dec. 15, 2020, in Raleigh.
N.C. Department of Public Safety
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper speaks at a news conference Dec. 15, 2020, in Raleigh.

North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed two bills on Friday that would have limited how public school teachers can discuss certain racial concepts and raised penalties on those who engage in violent protests.

The vetoed education bill was part of a national effort by Republicans in more than two dozen states to combat views they associated with “critical race theory,” a framework legal scholars developed in the 1970s and 1980s that centers on the belief that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions and maintains the dominance of whites in society.

GOP lawmakers across the country have used “critical race theory” and “indoctrination” as catchall phrases to describe racial concepts they find objectionable, including white privilege, systemic inequality and inherent bias. Republican governors in eight states have signed bills or budgets into law banning the teaching of critical race theory in K-12 schools or limiting how teachers can discuss racism and sexism.

North Carolina's bill would have prevented educators from compelling students to personally adopt any of 13 beliefs, and it was the focus of heated debatein the legislature.

Cooper said Friday that the measure would have inserted politics into education.

“The legislature should be focused on supporting teachers, helping students recover lost learning, and investing in our public schools. Instead, this bill pushes calculated, conspiracy-laden politics into public education,” he said in a news release announcing the veto.

Top Republican lawmakers in North Carolina said House Bill 324 sought to reveal questionable classroom activities and respond to parents' frustrations over how teachers and school districts operate. But Republicans, who did not appear to have sufficient votes to override the Democratic governor’s veto, have not identified a single case of alleged “indoctrination” that the North Carolina measure would have prevented.

State Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican, issued a statement Friday decrying Cooper's move.

“It’s perplexing that Gov. Cooper would veto a bill that affirms the public school system’s role to teach students the full truth about our state’s sometimes ugly past," he said.

The other vetoed measure would have allowed business owners to sue individuals who damaged their property for three times the actual damages they incurred, charged those who assault emergency responders with a more serious felony, even if nobody was physically injured, and jail those charged with rioting or looting for up to 48 hours without bond.

While Republicans believed the measure would hold rioters and looters accountable and better keep the public and law enforcement safe, Democrats and civil rights groups thought the punishments outlined in the bill were excessive and could deter people from taking to the streets to exercise their constitutional rights to free speech and assembly.

Cooper said Friday that people who commit crimes during riots should be prosecuted under existing laws and that the legislation was unnecessary.

The governor signed nine other bills, including measures meant to improve the rights of foster parents and protect the rights of pregnant women who are incarcerated.

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Bryan Anderson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.