Bill Seeking to Mandate Black History Instruction Passes House

Posted on 05-01-2021

APRIL 30, 2021 — Following an often-emotional debate, the House of Representatives on Thursday passed legislation seeking to require public schools to provide black history instruction.
“I truly believe this bill will go down as one of the important bills we will pass this session,” said co-sponsor, State Rep. Krista Griffith (D-Fairfax). “I want my school-age sons to learn African American history every single month they are in school – not just February [Black History Month].”
While none of the representatives involved in the nearly hour-long discussion webcast via Zoom disagreed with the importance of teaching black history, State Rep. Ruth Briggs King (R-Georgetown, Long Neck) noted that black history is already taught in the state’s classrooms. She also cited a communication from the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) detailing the agency’s existing plans to expand such instruction:
“The DDOE recognizes that Delaware classrooms may not have always taught black history topics to the depth and accuracy necessary, and black students have not always felt like their experiences are included or valued. DDOE seeks a systemic and embedded response to this inequity. In winter of 2021, DDOE partnered with the Social Studies Coalition of Delaware (SSCD) to conduct a request for proposals (RFP) and mutually hire a vendor to develop culturally responsive and inclusive high-quality instructional materials. … The DDOE anticipates that black history will be taught as part of the fabric of American history in grades 4, 8, and 11. We further anticipate that all social studies courses and content areas will provide opportunities to deepen the context around the black history that students are taught.”
The measure passed by the House Thursday (House Bill 198, as amended) would require all public schools, including charter schools, to provide instruction on black history through curricula developed at the local level, but which must meet eight standards contained in the bill.
Some House members, like State Rep. Rich Collins (R-Millsboro), expressed concern about aspects of the legislation.  For instance, it would mandate that black history curricula be designed to meet explicit goals, including the following:
  • Be trauma-responsive and recognize the impact of racial and historical trauma on students.
  • Incorporate contemporary events into discussion of black history and the tools of resistance.
  • Explore the various mechanisms of transitional and restorative justice that help humanity move forward.
The bill also requires the Department of Education to compile resources to help charter public schools and school districts develop their black history curricula.  In creating these tools, the DDOE must consult with organizations “that provide education about the experiences of black people, or seek to promote racial empowerment and social justice.” Seven such groups are listed in the legislation, several of which have a history of political advocacy.
Rep. Collins said while he supported the stated goal of the bill, he was uncomfortable with what he perceived to be its divisive nature.  “I would just like to see the language of this bill softened significantly, go back more towards education, and for that reason I just cannot support this,” he told the sponsors during the debate.  “I do understand what you are trying to accomplish, I just wish we could find a little easier way that was not quite so filled with strife.”
Bill co-sponsor, State Rep. Stephanie T. Bolden (D-Wilmington East), dismissed as “nitpicking” any concerns expressed about the legislation.  “Let’s not go through pieces and parts of a bill just to find or come to a conclusion to justify your voting for it or not voting for it,” she said.
The bill cleared the House on a vote of 33 to 7.  It is pending consideration in the Senate Education Committee.
The General Assembly is out of session next week for Bond Bill hearings. It will return to work on Tuesday, May 11.
Click here or on the image to watch Thursday’s proceedings in the House of Representatives.