Illinois lawmakers pass bill to help stomp out hate speech in schools

Published: May. 26, 2023 at 5:14 PM CDT
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - A new bill on the Governor’s desk will require school districts to create and implement a policy on discrimination and harassment of race, color, or national origin.

According to the Government Accountability Office, 1 in 4 students aged twelve to eighteen saw hate words or symbols in their schools. Rockford Representative Maurice West sponsored the bill in the House. He says its the teachers who championed this legislation after seeing it first hand.

“You should feel comfortable if needed to report what was done to you without losing your job, without getting a bad grade,” West said.

Senate Bill 90 came from Teach Plus, a coalition of educators in Illinois.

“93% of the teachers throughout the state said this is needed,” West told 23 News.

Some districts are already getting a head start. In the Meridian School District, the board started diversity training, hoping it will trickle down to the staff and students.

“The board has gone through the training, we are now back at the stage of bringing it back to the board to say hey can I get enough money to train everybody?” said Meridian Superintendent P.J. Caposey.

The bill will also require districts to track incidents of discrimination. The Illinois State Board of Education will create this data collection system to help each district track each instance of hate speech or harassment. Caposey likes the idea but questions how the district can monitor incidents that happen outside the classroom.

“In concept, fully supportive. The hard part becomes when somebody says ‘here’s a person who said something racist and either there is nothing to it or there is no proof,” he said.

That’s why West and other lawmakers plan to establish a team to snuff out hate in other areas, like social media.

“There’s not much oversight on that, so I plan on putting together a new working group over the summer to find out what we can do to strengthen our cyberbullying laws,” he said.

The bill passed with flying colors in the House and unanimously in the Senate.

“Any time that we have an understanding that any student, whether it be because of race, color, creed, sexual orientation, is having a disruption to their ability to be successful in school then we have a moral imperative to try to make it better,” said Caposey.