Abortion foes to challenge ‘culturally responsive’ teaching standards

SPRINGFIELD – The leader of one of the state’s largest anti-abortion groups told a legislative committee Tuesday that the group intends to file a legal challenge against the state’s new “culturally responsive teaching and leading standards.”


Ralph Rivera, a lobbyist for Illinois Right to Life Action and the Pro-Family Alliance, told a House committee that 30 public school teachers have signed on to a future lawsuit that will challenge the constitutionality of those standards.


“They feel that that would be compelled speech,” Rivera said. “This would threaten their right to free exercise of religion or conscience.”


The standards, which the Illinois State Board of Education endorsed last year, call on schools of education to train prospective new teachers in how to make their instruction more inclusive and relevant to students from different cultural backgrounds, sexual orientations and gender identities.


The Illinois State Board of Education proposed those standards last year, which were approved by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules in February amid strong opposition from religious organizations and Republican lawmakers.


Opponents of the standards pointed to language calling on teachers and school leaders to approach their work “affirming the validity of students’ backgrounds and identities,” as well as “assess how their biases and perceptions affect their teaching practice and how they access tools to mitigate their own behavior (racism, sexism, homophobia, unearned privilege, Eurocentrism, etc.).”


Schools of education won’t begin implementing those new standards until 2025.


But the issue came up Tuesday during discussion of a bill dealing with mentoring programs for new teachers and principals.


Senate Bill 814 would make a number of changes and updates, including a requirement that the content of those programs align with the Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning Standards. If enacted into law, that bill would take effect immediately.


Rivera said he had no problems with the underlying mentoring programs or any other part of the bill. He said his only opposition was to the provisions requiring those programs be aligned with the new teaching and leadership standards.


He also said it wasn’t his group’s intent to proceed with the lawsuit until those standards go into effect in 2025.


“But this bill says that, ahead of that, new teachers and those mentors would have to align themselves with this rule, and there’s a concern that they can’t do that,” he said. 


His position, however, brought a sharp rebuke from Rep. Sue Scherer (D-Decatur) who chairs the House committee that deals with K-12 education curriculum and policy.


“I just think it’ll be a crying shame if people are now asked, Ralph, to not vote for every single good education bill from this point forward in history, and pull that one line out every single time,” she said. “At a certain point, we have to accept that that is in the statute. JCAR has passed it.”


“Well, but it’s our responsibility to say that 814 is a fine bill,” Rivera replied. “But there’s one part that we’re looking to have 30 public school teachers and more do a lawsuit on because they’ve read the rule, or the standard, and they say, ‘I can’t do all of that.’ So we can’t just ignore that.”


The bill passed out of the committee by a vote of 5-1 and now heads to the House floor.

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