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Bill Allowing Teachers To Not Address Students By Preferred Names Or Pronouns Fails Committee

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Arkansas Senate
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A bill that would have prohibited public schools and state-supported higher education institutions in Arkansas from requiring educators refer to students by their preferred names or pronouns failed in a legislative committee on Wednesday. 

The Senate Education Committee, through a voice vote, did not have the support needed to advance House Bill 1749 to the Senate, where if it passed again, would have gone to the governor.   

Under the bill, an employee of a public school or a state-supported university would not be required to use a "pronoun, title or other word" to identify a student as either male or female when it "is inconsistent" with the student’s sex. 

In presenting the bill to the committee, Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville, said the legislation would not get rid of any discrimination laws in the state, but that its intent would be to protect the rights of teachers. 

"I’ve had teachers asking me were they going to be sued for not using the proper pronoun and [were] concerned," Bentley said. "I was just feeling for my teachers in my district and so that’s why I brought forth this bill. It’s really just a first amendment bill saying that our teachers have a first amendment right, and that they’re not compelled to a certain speech." 

Six people spoke against the bill, while one spoke for it.

Courtney Frierson, a mental health therapist, was among those against it. She said using a student’s preferred name or pronouns can be incredibly beneficial to them. 

"The largest research study to date about suicidality among trans youth found that simply using that teen’s authentic name and pronouns in one context reduced depression symptoms, reduces suicidal thoughts by one third, and reduces suicidal behavior by 65%. Using a person’s name and title is a matter of basic courtesy and respect, honorable senators," Frierson said. 

Though the bill could be brought up again, Committee Chair Sen. Missy Irvin told the committee this would likely be the last meeting before the session adjourns. 

BILL ALLOWING TEACHING OF CREATIONISM FAILS

The Senate committee also did not have the needed votes to advance a bill that would have allowed the theory of creationism to be taught in public and open enrollment charter schools in grades K-12.

By a voice vote, the committee did not pass House Bill 1701. The legislation would rewrite state law to allow the teaching of creationism as a theory of "how the earth came to exist."

In presenting another bill to the committee, Bentley said she heard from several teachers in her district that wanted the option of teaching creationism. 

In questioning Bentley about the bill, Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, spoke on her concerns that many different religions have different ideas about creationism, and what that could mean for teaching it in schools. 

"When we get into this thing of creationism, we can’t just think about it as our theory as it relates to our particular religion. We are allowing everybody’s theory of creationism to be taught and when we get into that we get into local politics, we get into local culture, we get into local social issues that to me can boomerang and cause a great deal of consternation. So that’s one of the reasons I’m going to be opposed to it," Chesterfield said.

One member of the public spoke against the bill. 

When the committee voted through a voice vote, the chair declared a tie, with three voting for it and three voting against it. Though the bill could be brought up again, the current legislative session is slated to end next week.

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