Bill would ban diversity, equity policies in K-12 schools

Published 10:56 am Monday, January 15, 2024

This session, several Republicans are targeting diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging policies — commonly referred to as DEI — in schools.

The first week, Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, introduced Senate Bill 6.

In addition to other provisions, it would prohibit public colleges and universities from asking current or prospective students and employees about their support or opposition to certain “divisive concepts,” including ideas related to the existence of systemic racism and sexism.

Last week, Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, filed a bill aimed at DEI in K-12 public schools and local school districts. Senate Bill 93 includes a few key components.

Diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging

Senate Bill 93 defines diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging as “any program, activity, instruction or policy that classifies individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, gender identity or sexual orientation and promotes differential or preferential treatment of individuals on the basis of such classification.”

If passed, local school districts, public schools and public charter schools would not be allowed to “advocate for diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging” unless it is required to comply with state or federal law.

Programs, policies or activities that advantage a group or individual of a particular race, sex, national origin, gender identity or sexual orientation compared to others in order to increase their participation, further representation or improve outcomes would be banned.

Programs, policies or activities that promote the idea of subconscious or implicit bias would also be prohibited.

Kentucky school districts would not be able to support or maintain any programs, trainings or activities that advocate for diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.

Political and social activism

Districts would also not be allowed to support programs, trainings or activities that engage in political or social activism, any activity intended to cause governmental change or achieve a certain result in regard to a social issue.

Social issues include topics that “polarize or divide society among political, ideological, moral or religious beliefs,” according to the bill.

This means that employees of school districts, public schools and public charter schools could not endorse or promote political or social activism through communications, advertisements or programs.

Like the anti-DEI policies, this also does not include any endorsement or promotion required to comply with state or federal law.

Trauma-informed approaches

Finally, the bill deletes certain sections of existing law related to “trauma-informed approaches” in schools.

Trauma-informed approaches recognize that students and their learning may be significantly impacted by trauma they have experienced.

They promote awareness of trauma and best practices to create a “safe, stable and understanding learning environment for all students and staff.”

Current law requires all public schools to adopt a trauma-informed approach to education, as well as provide a place for students to “feel safe and supported to learn throughout the school day” and be known well by at least one adult at the school.

SB93 would remove those requirements.

It would also remove the the requirement for schools to create “trauma-informed teams” that are trained to identify and help students who are impacted by trauma.

School resource officer curriculum would no longer include lessons on trauma-informed action or diversity and bias awareness.

Reaction to anti-DEI bills

Gov. Andy Beshear said he believes diversity is an “asset, not a liability.”

“I believe as a Commonwealth we should be saying we want diverse population, diverse thought, that this is a welcoming place for everyone,” he said.

“And that we also recognize that while this is the greatest country on the history of planet Earth, we have made mistakes in this country that still reverberate today and that we have a duty to address them.”

Beshear called the Republicans’ anti-DEI push a “political boogeyman,” an imaginary evil meant to rile voters up in an election year.

He cited the federal government’s definition of equity: “consistent and systematic fair justice, impartial treatment of all individuals, including individuals who belong to underserved communities.”

Underserved communities include people who live in rural areas, veterans, military spouses and people impacted by persistent poverty, according to the definition.

“That is almost all of Kentucky,” Beshear said. “The way that this is defined federally should give us an advantage to securing federal grants, to securing these federal dollars.”