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Panel approves bill barring mandatory implicit bias training in Arkansas schools

Arkansas Legislature
Rep. Mindy McAlindon (R-Centerton) presented House Bill 1559 to the House Education Committee on Mar. 16, 2023.

The House Education committee on Thursday advanced a proposal to prohibit public schools and state-supported higher education institutions from requiring employees 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.

Sponsored by Rep. Mindy McAlindon (R-Centerton), House Bill 1559 prohibits schools from taking “adverse employment action” against an employee who fails to or refuses to participate in implicit bias training.

HB 1559 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.”

McAlindon said HB 1559 does not exempt teachers from required training hours and there is no recourse an individual can take against a school if they attend a training, find it addresses implicit bias and decide to leave, which they may do under the proposal.

“Teachers are teaching because they love kids and they love helping them learn,” McAlindon said. “All this bill is asking is that we be sure that the trainings continue to focus on helping teachers be the best teachers they can be.”

Rep. Charlene Fite (R-Van Buren) asked if this is a problem in many Arkansas schools. McAlindon said it’s not, but she has anecdotal evidence that people have attended trainings with implicit bias that they’ve been uncomfortable with.

McAlindon said the governor’s office and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences are comfortable with the bill.

Rep. Denise Garner (D-Fayetteville), the only Democrat present, was the sole audible dissenter.

HB 1559 will next be presented to the Arkansas House of Representatives.

Antoinette Grajeda is a multimedia journalist who has reported since 2007 on a wide range of topics, including politics, health, education, immigration and the arts for NPR affiliates, print publications and digital platforms. A University of Arkansas alumna, she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and a master’s degree in documentary film.