By Eliot Duke
Dunn Daily Record
Legislation making its way through the General Assembly caused Harnett County to rethink its proposed mandatory employee diversity, equity and inclusion training.
House Bill 324 recently passed in the state House of Representatives and now is being reviewed in a senate committee, inching it one step closer to possibly becoming state law. The intent of the bill is that “students, teachers, administrators, and other school employees respect the dignity of others, acknowledge the right of others to express differing opinions, and foster and defend intellectual honesty, freedom of inquiry and instruction, and freedom of speech and association.”
Former County Manager Paula Stewart scheduled a June 16 mandatory lecture for all county employees described as “an introduction to race and racial reconciliation.” Her successor, Acting County Manager George Wood, on Monday said any such training should comply with language in House Bill 324.
“I think it’s very specific about what can and cannot be taught,” Wood said. “This bill specifically deals with what can and can not be taught in schools. I think it’s a good overview. I don’t think we should be doing any training that is not in conformance with this because there’s a very good likelihood that this will end up being state law.”
Under the proposed bill, public schools would not be allowed to promote concepts saying “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex; an individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously; an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex; an individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex; an individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex; any individual, solely by virtue of his or her race or sex, should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress; that the belief that the United States is a meritocracy is an inherently racist or sexist belief, or that the United States was created by members of a particular race or sex for the purpose of oppressing members of another race or sex.”
House Bill 324 defined promotes “compelling students, teachers, administrators, or other school employees to affirm or profess belief in the [aforementioned] concepts, including in curricula, reading lists, seminars, workshops, trainings, or other educational or professional settings in a manner that could reasonably give rise to the appearance of official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement.”
The bill also would prohibit public school systems from “contracting with, hiring, or otherwise engaging speakers, consultants, diversity trainers, and other persons for the purpose of advocating” such concepts.
While Wood supported a form of training, he recommended the county find someone more in line with the language of HB 324. Harnett County contracted Dr. Kari-Claudia Allen to conduct the first training session, but when Wood informed her the presentation would have to be more in line with the proposed legislation, she declined.
“I recommend we move forward with the training but subject to it being done in the framework of this bill 324,” said Wood. “We had given Dr. Allen an opportunity to look at the bill. She has since come back and said she will not be able to participate in it. Harnett County Schools is also looking at doing some sort of training in this regard. We’re going to get in touch with their person.”
Stewart planned another lecture for later in the summer called “Bias, Racial Justice and Communities,” and an ensuing immersion session to include information related to cultural experiences of Black Americans, LatinX and Asian American peoples.
Commissioners decided to table the issue until the bill is resolved in the General Assembly. Commissioner Barbara McKoy felt the bill and the intent of the training were the same.
“I don’t understand the motion,” said McKoy. “What is proposed in the bill is what we would be looking to address in Harnett County. They’re addressing issues that affects Harnett County.”