NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are working to make sure educators are not required to be trained on any “implicit biases” they may have. It’s sparked debate over whether this move protects teachers or hurts the students they serve.

“Senator Gardenhire approached me about this idea about looking at banning the requirement for implicit bias training,” said State Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville). “There’s real concern among educators about a training that is required where they go in and they truly feel like it’s made them make makes them feel marginalized, and it creates division versus creating unity.”

Zachary sponsors the House version of the legislation and he said issues in Knox County emphasized the need to propose the bill impacting schools across Tennessee. He explained the bill would not ban implicit bias training all together, but they do not want it to be required for educators.

“I know just specifically with Knox County, the training that they’ve had to go through has been conducted at the University of Tennessee, and it got to the point last year [where] educators walked out,” said Zachary. “They have made simple statements that if you’re Southern Baptist, it predisposes you to certain racist tendencies, and that if you’re a white male, that you are seen as an oppressor, and so things that I don’t know why we would be creating that kind of environment for educators, especially in the environment, when we’re in right now, us as politicians, things are so divisive.”

House Bill 158 defines implicit bias training as “a training or other 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,
subconsciously, 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 patterns of thinking in order to eliminate the individual’s unconscious bias or prejudice.” The bill proposes banning such required training at all levels of education — from colleges and universities, to local school districts and charter schools.

Metro Nashville Public Schools Board of Education member Christiane found the proposed legislation frustrating, confusing and harmful.

“It’s suggesting that we should not continue to try to increase educators’ and practitioners’ knowledge and understanding of how to work amongst different subgroups,” Buggs said. “I have my own implicit bias. As a woman, as a middle aged woman, as an educator, there are certain things that I make assumptions around simply because of my lived experiences. And when your lived experiences differ from the population that you serve, you’ve got to be made aware of how to work inclusively and thoughtfully with them and be intentional with the language that you use and making sure you spot frustrations as they arise so that you can best support your students.”

Buggs said the specific wording of the legislation is concerning.

“Because it’s so very specific, it can impact so many different types of trainings that many districts have already invested in, facilitators that they’ve already signed contracts with,” she said. “Then this really would impact some of those schools, especially, some of our non-traditional schools that are looking to just figure out a better way to address racial tension in America.”

Racial tension is one of the reasons why Zachary feels implicit bias training can be harmful.

“You’re literally telling people based on the color of the skin, based on their religion, based on their backgrounds, that they have these biases that they don’t even know exists, that manifests themselves in certain ways,” he said. “Is there still racism? Is there still division? Absolutely. Is it what it was 50 years ago? No. And me as a white male, can I have the perspective of a Black male and Asian male or whatever? Absolutely not. But it comes to a point where it crosses a line where you tell me that if I’m white, Black, Asian, Jewish, whatever, that I have these certain biases, and that I am a certain person, because of the simply the color of my skin, or what religion I practice. That is wrong, and we’re not going to subject–we shouldn’t be subjecting educators to that, because their focus – I’m married to a teacher – their focus should be on educating and investing in those children.”

Buggs has spent her entire career in the field of education and explained how she’s seen the benefits of implicit bias training firsthand.

“Nashville has 159 schools; we serve 81,000-plus students; there are some districts that serve 800 students; their type of implicit bias training, naturally and professionally is very different than the type of implicit bias training that Nashville has,” said Buggs. “When I was a teacher, I taught students who spoke English as a second language, and they didn’t speak the same dialect of maybe Spanish, or even Italian or Kurdish or any other language. And so it was imperative that I refreshed some implicit bias training for myself to make sure that I was providing the most welcoming and inclusive classroom, but also so that I could improve my own practices so that they would match what was happening in some of the highest-performing classrooms at schools across the country.”

She said educators go through all kinds of training, but it’s aimed at helping them to better serve their students.

“As a professional who is an educator, I consider myself a continuous learner; being uncomfortable should never give me a right to not do my job to the best of my ability,” said Buggs. “When I see bigoted legislation, I would hope that educators see students as needing to be more comfortable than themselves.”

Educators in MNPS are asked to take equity training that includes topics like implicit bias, but there are no identified disciplinary consequences for not taking part, according to district officials.

“All school districts are required by the State and Federal education departments to track and report disparities among students based on their demographic profile. School districts are then given annual measurable objectives based on those disparities to show growth towards closing gaps in academic outcomes and other measures of success,” MNPS Spokesman Sean Braisted said in a statement to News 2. “As part of our efforts to identify and eliminate inequities, we do ask employees to participate in an equity training that includes the topic of unconscious/implicit biases that people of all backgrounds may have, giving employees the knowledge and tools to recognize and address them when it comes to working with students and co-workers, with the goal of reducing disparities in outcomes that lead to achievement gaps.”

Click here to read House Bill 158.

Hundreds of bills will be up for debate during the 113th General Assembly. Tennessee lawmakers shared their thoughts on some of the major issues up for discussion at this year’s legislative session.

What lawmakers had to say about: Abortion Ban Clarification | Marijuana Reform | Transgender Therapy and LGBTQ+ Rights | Dept. of Children’s Services | Education | Crime/Public Safety | More

You can also find daily coverage from the session here.