'Guidance' or coercion? Rhode Island DEI bill draws alarm, colleges get 'creative' to protect DEI

Optional language in Rhode Island DEI bill is a ruse, given state's use of guidance to compel schools to adopt transgender policies, critics says.
The Rhode Island State House

Red states and conservative activists have launched a pincer movement against government programs that claim to foster diversity, equity and inclusion: stamp it out in law and sniff out surreptitious attempts to impose what critics call "discrimination, exclusion and indoctrination."

Undercover video from Accuracy in Media shows administrators at Texas public universities explaining how they are circumventing at least the spirit of the state's ban on DEI offices, identity-specific programs, and required DEI training and hiring, which took effect Jan. 1.

Several universities told The Chronicle of Higher Education they were investigating staff in the video, who told the AIM snoops "we're doing the same work" under a new name, "you got to skirt the lines a little" and the rebranded programs are "DEI lite," among other comments.

The University of Texas Tyler suspended its director of student belonging, who said she gets "creative" to continue the DEI work proscribed by SB 17 – now a state law that requires publicly funded colleges and universities to close their DEI offices.

The basic argument against such DEI offices, at least according to the Texas law, is that they “[promote] differential treatment of or provides special benefits to people on the basis of race, color, or ethnicity.”

Texas Tech said its "realignments" do not violate the law and that AIM misrepresented its senior business assistant, who said "we're just going to call [DEI] different things" because "financially you can't let all of that go."

NAACP Legal Defense Fund lawyer Antonio Ingram told the Chronicle the "videos create a culture of surveillance and fear among people," many of them underpaid nonwhites and women, trying to make "underrepresented [students] feel welcome on campus."

This week Rhode Island lawmakers will consider legislation (H7722) to develop state DEI "curricular programs and materials" and task the teachers’ advisory council with providing "recommendations on how to ensure principles of DEI are included and incorporated into the hiring process for teachers, teacher assistants, and other school education staff."

While the bill says school boards "may incorporate" the state materials into their curricula, critics warn the optional language is a ruse.

That's because school boards have been falsely told the Rhode Island Department of Education's nonbinding guidance on "transgender and gender nonconforming students" is legally enforceable, lawyer and parent activist Nicole Solas told Just the News.

She pointed to video of an attorney for the Foster Gloucester Regional School District telling board members "the law" required them to let male students in female intimate spaces and hide students' preferred names and pronouns, known as social transition, from parents.

Solas warned school board members parents will sue if they enforce the guidance and "risk the safety of girls in school bathrooms or keep secrets from parents."

She earlier told the Smithfield School Committee state law and Supreme Court precedent supersede the guidance.

The Obama administration similarly used non-binding Title IX guidance to coerce colleges to lower standards of evidence and due process in campus sexual misconduct proceedings, as House Republican committee leaders reminded the Biden administration last fall.

Former Providence Public Schools teacher Ramona Bessinger said H7722 would create a "K-12 police-state," pointing to language authorizing teachers to "inform policymakers about implementation, concerns, and/or practical issues." The bill says it "promote[s] the integration of diversity, equity, and inclusion principles."

Bessinger previously alleged retaliation by the district for warning that it was promoting observable "racial hostility" by teaching the principles of critical race theory.

House Republicans are also concerned about public university DEI spending. They repeatedly cited reporting by The College Fix on such expenditures in a House Higher Education and Workforce Development Subcommittee hearing last week, the Chronicle reported.

The University of Virginia alone spends $20 million on at least 235 DEI employees, 82 of them students, according to a new Open The Books investigation.

Among 81 bills to ban forms of DEI since last year, eight states have signed them into law, eight have "final legislative approval" and 29 "have been tabled, failed to pass, or vetoed," according to a Chronicle tracker last updated March 8.

The biggest recent shakeup may have been in the Sunshine State, where the University of Florida "closed the Office of the Chief Diversity Officer, eliminated DEI positions and administrative appointments, and halted DEI-focused contracts" in response to the state DEI ban.

One of the milder bills passed a Kansas House education committee Thursday, the University Herald reported. It would penalize colleges $10,000 per violation of a ban on DEI statements in hiring and admissions, though amendments lowered the penalty from $100,000 and gave institutions 90 days to remedy each violation before getting hauled to court.

The Wyoming Legislature approved a budget Friday that restricts funding for the University of Wyoming's DEI office but not its gender-studies curricula, a compromise between the House and Senate, according to nonprofit newsroom WyoFile

Some staff in the AIM video said they delegated "DEI-related roles and responsibilities to student organizations to make the programs appear less official," AIM President Adam Guillette wrote in The Dallas Express last week. 

The disclosures show why "universal school choice is sorely needed in the Lone Star State," Guillette wrote. "Educational freedom is the only way for parents to truly ensure that their children are not being radicalized."

Republican primary drubbings in Texas last week suggest a legislative "mandate" for the school funding mechanism he dubs "students, not systems," Educational Freedom Institute Executive Director Corey DeAngelis wrote on X.

Alabama Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed legislation Thursday giving parents up to $7,000 for private school and up to $2,000 for homeschooling expenses, the Associated Press reported. 

It's the 11th state to approve universal school choice, according to DeAngelis. He predicted that Louisiana would follow, given Republican Gov. Jeff Landry's speech to the Legislature on Monday.

Wyoming's two chambers again divided on educational savings accounts Thursday, with the House rejecting the Senate's heavily amended version of a bill that gives $6,000 to parents for private school and homeschool expenses, WyoFile reported.