BOISE — On Monday, the Senate Education Committee voted 6-3 in favor of HB 377. The bill is intended to combat fears of critical race theory indoctrination in classrooms. Immediately afterward, more than 100 Idaho students, ranging from middle schoolers to seniors in college, gathered on the steps of the Capitol Building to protest HB 377. Many had signed up to testify in the committee hearing but had not gotten a chance to speak.

Student government leaders placed a podium and microphone on the steps and encouraged students to see this as an opportunity to give testimony there instead. Everyone was encouraged to speak “even if you’re scared.” A line soon formed.

College senior Bryce Funkhauser and seven other Boise State University student government leaders had been working on their testimony ever since the first version of the bill came out. They were disappointed legislators had not taken the time to talk to college students about their views of this issue.

“Essentially what we wanted to say was that we’re not being consulted. It really speaks volumes that, not only is the Legislature out of touch with what’s going on, but they don’t want to hear from students,” Funkhauser said.

One high school sophomore said she had to leave school early to be there and knew many classmates who wished they could have done the same.

“Students, those who are most affected by this bill, haven’t even been given the chance to voice their own opinions. I’m angry ... I wasn’t able to be here earlier (at the hearing) just because I have an obligation at school,” she said.

Two juniors at Borah High School took the podium together to talk about how much they valued their English teacher who taught them the parts of history that “aren’t so pretty.”

“Ms. Davis has taught us so much about the different discrimination that different minorities have faced in America and overseas because of what America is doing. I don’t want this bill to have to stomp out that. I believe that we need to learn about the discrimination of minorities in order to prevent it in the future,” Ethan Hobson said.

Eighth-grader Yvonne Shen said teachers shouldn’t be encouraged to shy away from certain history lessons just because they may be “too offensive for some people to handle.”

“Many people seem to think that teaching our students about the cruelty and suffering of our country’s past is some form of self-hatred for our own country. But, make no mistake, this is self-awareness. If we aren’t able to recognize our own flaws, we will never be able to progress beyond them,” said Shen, a member of the Idaho Asian American Pacific Islander Youth Alliance at North Junior High.

In the middle of all this, a student suddenly stepped forward to tell the crowd that the Senate was about to take up HB 377. The next moment, all were rushing up the steps, through the door and into the gallery to watch senators debate and vote on the bill they were so against. Every seat was taken.

“There’s no topic banned in the bill, there’s no book banned in the bill. It does not censor history. You can talk about anything in history. … In fact, it does not ban the teaching of critical race theory. It doesn’t ban that. It doesn’t ban anything. What it says is that it cannot compel students to adopt or adhere to certain principles. ... Critical race theory tends to undermine the thesis that each of us are responsible for our actions,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Steven Thayn, R-Emmett.

The gallery watched intently. After debate that denied the bill censored anything, one student hissed “that’s not true,” loud enough to echo across the chamber.

Sen. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, said since the killing of George Floyd, the nation had to re-examine issues surrounding race and begin learning the ways racism is woven into institutions like law enforcement, reported the Idaho Press’ Betsy Russell.

“It’s not just an individual act of meanness,” Wintrow said.

Some in the crowd clapped quietly for her and got a rap from Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s gavel in return.

In the end, the bill passed 27-8.

“It’s disheartening to see so many people had the wrong idea in our Senate. It’s so unrepresentative of the general public. It’s sad, you know?” Ethan Ricks, a freshman at Boise State University.

Zeth Roark, a sophomore at Boise State University, hoped the sight of so many young people watching from above would at least send a message to legislators.

“We’re here, and we’re not going anywhere,” Roark said.

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