In California, social science instruction in public schools must include study of the “role and contributions” of certain “categories” of persons. A law passed last month updates those categories to include “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans.”
Known as the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act, or SB 48, the law also prohibits schools from adopting instructional materials that contain “any matter” reflecting adversely upon persons because of factors including “sexual orientation.”
The new law raises certain questions for parents. For example, some parents might wonder in which grades their children will begin to study history based on “categories” of persons defined by sexuality and gender identity. Similarly, some parents might wonder whether the law requires instruction about certain individuals because of their particular sexuality or rather instruction about the sexuality of historical figures already in the curriculum.
The new law also raises certain questions for teachers and school officials. As Kevin Snider, chief counsel for the Pacific Justice Institute, testified to California lawmakers:
[SB 48] uses terminology which is vague and confusing.… Under this inartfully drafted bill, a teacher would have no principle for determining when his remarks pass from the permissible to the forbidden. Further, a school board would not know when proposed instructional materials promote a discriminatory bias or reflect adversely upon persons belonging to a protected class.
Concerned citizens might also worry that activists will attempt to use this new legislation to undermine the traditional understanding of marriage as one man and one woman. Proponents of same-sex marriage routinely argue that defining marriage as one man and one woman unlawfully “discriminates” based on “sexual orientation.” One question is whether activists will argue that SB 48 should be interpreted to ban any instructional materials that express a public policy preference for the historical understanding of marriage as one man and one woman. Slippery slope strategies to undermine marriage have been well documented.
One proponent of SB 48 argues that it will help to reduce discrimination in California’s public schools. Faced with similar legislation in 2006, however, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger explained that it was unnecessary because California already protected against discrimination in public schools.
Voters soon may have the opportunity to exercise their own veto of attempts to change public school instruction in California. A referendum petition supported by the StopSB48 coalition would take this issue directly to California voters. According to the Pacific Justice Institute, which is supporting the referendum, the StopSB48 coalition “must gather approximately 550,000 valid signatures” by the end of September for the referendum to move forward.
Melanie Zlikovsky is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm