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Arkansas Senate panel OKs tweaked bill barring implicit bias training in schools


Arkansas Senate panel OKs tweaked bill barring implicit bias training in schools

Mar 29, 2023 | 8:31 pm ET
By Tess Vrbin


A state Senate committee on Wednesday approved a new version of the bill that aims to prohibit public schools and colleges from requiring employees to participate in implicit bias training.

House Bill 1559 prohibits schools from taking “adverse employment action” against an employee who fails or refuses to participate in implicit bias training. The State Board of Education also could not require the training for obtaining or renewing an educator license or for professional development.

The bill defines implicit bias training as “a training or educational program designed to expose an individual to biases that the training’s or educational program’s developer or designer presumes the individual to unconsciously or unintentionally possess that predispose the individual to be unfairly prejudiced in favor of or against a thing, person, or group to adjust the individual’s pattern of thinking in order to eliminate the individual’s unconscious or unintentional bias or prejudice.”

Sen. Kim Hammer
Sen. Kim Hammer, R-Benton

An individual can leave a training session upon learning it addresses implicit bias, and the individual will not be able to take recourse against the school for this reason, the bill states.

Sen. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, the bill’s Senate sponsor, said studies have shown that implicit bias training “does not lead to meaningful change and, in some cases, actually leads to increases in anger and frustration.”

Former teacher and principal Lance LeVar was the only witness against the bill.

“The point of implicit bias training done properly is to help look to see if our bias hurts [others], not to say that because you have bias, you are bad,” he said.

The bill passed the House Education Committee and later the full House along party lines.

If it passes the Senate, it will return to the House for approval of an amendment added Wednesday, which states that an institution would not be prohibited from requiring implicit bias training if 95% of it “is required by an accreditor, grantor, or licensor.”

Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, said she appreciated this amendment.

“There are times that we need to walk in somebody else’s shoes,” she said. “When people don’t understand what others are going through, there is a lack of empathy, and what implicit bias training was designed to do was to develop a degree of empathy. And yes, it makes people angry, because when you’ve been a minority for a long time, you’re angry too.”

The committee approved the bill with no audible dissent.