Round 2 of curriculum fight in Louisiana House Education committee

Bill mandates schools teach ‘founding principles of the U.S.’

Valarie Hodges introduces her bills that mandate public schools teach certain aspects of U.S. history. (JC Canicosa/Louisiana Illuminator)

Louisiana public schools may soon be mandated to teach their students the “founding principles of the U.S.” — including “American exceptionalism,” globalism, and immigration policy —  as well as “appropriate instruction regarding World War II and the Holocaust.”

House Bill 352, by Rep. Valarie Hodges (R-Denham Springs), along with mandating schools to teach their students the “founding principles of the U.S.,” also requires schools’ textbooks and other learning materials to promote “the benefits of capitalism, private property, constitutional liberties, the value of a constitutional republic and traditional standards of moral values.” 

Hodges told the committee her bill “seeks to restore honest and patriotic education that cultivates in our children a profound love for our country.”

“Because if you haven’t ever lived overseas, you may not understand how blessed we really are to live in this country,” she said. “It is the most blessed nation in the world. And I want to pass that down to our children.”

Ethan Melancon, the director of government affairs at the Louisiana Department of Education, told the committee the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education opposes Hodges’ bill.

“The curriculum should be set by the board that was constitutionally created to set it,” Melancon said. “We’re talking about civics here, and we have a board that is set to do that. So that’s part of their duties. So they believe that they should be the ones to do this.”

A failed amendment that would prevent schools from using textbooks or other learning materials that “provide that a particular sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin is inherently superior or inferior to another” didn’t pass after a 6-6 vote.

Rep. Ken Brass, a Vacherie Democrat and member of the Legislative Black Caucus said during Wednesday’s hearing that the amendment was essentially the same idea Ray Garofalo (R-Chalmette) had about not teaching about systemic racism and sexism but “in disguise.”

The Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus called last month for House Speaker Clay Schexnayder to remove Garofalo from his position as chair of the Louisiana House Education Committee after he said public schools in the state should be required to teach “the good, the bad, the ugly” of slavery during discussions on that period of U.S. history.. 

Schexnayder has not removed him.

Garofalo’s bill would have banned lessons that assert that the U.S. or the state “is fundamentally, institutionally, or systemically racist or sexist.”

Garofalo chaired Wednesday’s committee meeting, but left the room before Hodges’ bills came up. He came back intermittently when the committee was forced to vote, which upset the Black lawmakers on committee.

“I truly do not understand how the chairman can be in another room and not presiding, and then come in the room to vote,” Brass said.

Garofalo didn’t respond to those criticisms.

Rep. Tammy Phelps (D-Shreveport) said after the meeting that although “chairmen do that all the time, it just seemed a little different here.”

Phelps said she was appalled and disappointed that Hodges’ bill passed and said it hasd “familiar language” to Garofalo’s bill. 

“What are you saying to the committee? What is it saying to the constituents that we represent?” Phelps said about seeing such similar legislation so soon after Garofalo’s bill.

The committee also passed Hodges’s HB 416, which would require schools to incorporate “appropriate instruction regarding World War II and the Holocaust” into courses for 6th through 12th graders by a 9-4 vote.

“The further we get from history, the more those facts begin to fade,” Hodges said to the committee. “So it’s very important that our children know these things.”