In the week before Republican Gov. Brad Little signed the controversial House Bill 377, targeting critical race theory in education, his office received some 200 emails pressing him to either veto or sign it.
EdNews received copies of those emails by a public records request, and by EdNews’ count, 69.4 percent of those emails called for a veto.
EdNews requested a tally of emails, letters and phone calls to Little’s office in favor of and against signing the bill. The governor’s office responded that no such tally was taken, but estimated that phone calls were split 50-50 for and against signing. Between HB 377’s introduction on April 21 and April 29, the day after Little signed it, he received 200 emails on the subject, which EdNews read and analyzed; 118 backed a veto and 52 requested his signature. Another 30 emails either contained no text or did not make a clear recommendation.
Little signed the bill into law a week after it was introduced in committee, but questioned the Legislature’s narrative of “widespread, systemic indoctrination in Idaho classrooms” and the “anecdotes and innuendo” that birthed it.
The bill, which targets critical race theory in Idaho classrooms, came at the petitioning and eventual praise of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a conservative group. It bans forcing students to “adopt” or “adhere to” beliefs that the U.S. is inherently racist, that one race is superior or that one is responsible for acts committed in the past by a member of their race. The bill attributes those “tenets” to critical race theory but stops short of an outright ban of theorists’ writings in school curricula.
The bill contains an emergency clause, so it went into effect immediately after it was signed.
Email responses reflected the stark division heard in the contentious testimony that led up to the bill’s passing.
Some critics portrayed the bill as attempted “censorship,” part of a Joseph McCarthy-style “witch hunt” that “will have a chilling effect on what teachers feel they can safely bring up in the classroom.”
“It seems the bill is trying to control and limit what we are taught and it’s almost as if this bill is trying to erase history or ignore the awful things that have happened in the past,” wrote a graduating senior from Columbia High School in Nampa.
Of the 31.6 percent who supported Little cementing the law, some applauded the Legislature’s “foresight” in shielding against “critical race theory indoctrination,” leaning on Little to “do the right thing.”
A Riggins constituent wrote in an email to the governor, “Indoctrination of our school children into any ideology that pits racial or gender groups against one another for any reason is as disgusting as it is dangerous. HB 377 makes this type of indoctrination more difficult to insinuate into our state and her students.”
In some cases, misinformation seemed to inform constituents’ email responses. At least a dozen respondents asserted the bill would implement a total ban on critical race theory in Idaho schools — at least 10 who supported the bill and two who opposed it.
“This bill will ban Critical Race Theory (CRT) from being taught in public schools,” one emailer wrote. Another said, “Please sign HB 377 banning critical race theory indoctrination in our state’s public schools. I believe critical race theory teaches that the most important thing about you is your race; the color of your skin.”
HB 377 was the latest in a string of proposals targeting social justice and discussions about race in the classroom; the group of bills were forwarded as House Republicans shot down major education budgets, from preschool to higher education, over related concerns. One earlier bill included a ban on books and articles that promote “any racist or sexist concept,” and another was designed to give students legal footing to sue teachers for a minimum of $5,000 for violating new college campus free speech codes.
But earlier versions of the bill did not pass, and no prohibition of critical race theory in education has made it through the Statehouse, so far.
Republicans who first refused to pass education budgets have since approved a K-12 teacher salary budget, a trimmed higher education budget and some but not all of the federal dollars available for child care and early education.
For lawmakers, particularly House conservatives, the critical race theory bill appears to have been the linchpin to passing the budgets.