Last week, we got word that the Vermont House was going to vote on a bill (H.3) that aims to incorporate more education and data collection about racism, prejudice and bias, in part by ensuring inclusion of under-represented groups in the curriculum. After some of the racist events that have occurred in the past years, a working group was created to draft the bill, which did not pass when it was last introduced as part of a much larger education bill. This year, the group brought the bill as a stand-alone, and it was fast-tracked in the Vermont House. The bill was very good, and included issues of concern to African-Americans, LGBT people, Native Americans, Migrants, and other groups that were perceived as marginal or experiencing hate and bias. Unfortunately, the bill did not include anti-Semitism, or Islamophobic incidents.
I, along with Rabbi Small of OZ and Rabbi Feinsilber of JCOGS, (as well as several congregants with connections to the legislature) got in touch with our representative and asked that they include anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in the bill, since our communities are targets for such attacks. The legislature was VERY responsive, and immediately began drafting language to add it. They invited the three rabbis to testify at the State House, and the result was a bill that included a definition of ‘ethnic group’ that includes Jewish people, and includes data collection of anti-Semitic and Islamophobic incidents in the schools. The bill passed the house unanimously on a voice vote and now moves to the Vermont Senate.
The only down side was that the original working group felt we bypassed them at the last-minute (we let them know we had not been included in the years of work preparing the bill). There was also a rumor going around that the three rabbis wanted to sink the bill. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Each of us started our remarks by saying we fully support the bill and want it to pass; we simply wanted anti-Semitic and Islamophobic incidents included and addressed in the curriculum. We live in times of distrust and division, and we have seen it in this, but already there are conversations and plans on how to heal the divisions and work more closely as allies. May those bear sweet fruit in the future. Meanwhile, we are very proud of the work we did and our ability to affect change democratically through the legislative process. It was truly an honor working with the Vermont legislators who were responsive, caring, and only wanted the best bill.
-Rabbi David Edleson
(2/6/2019 UPDATE: – H.3 was passed by the House, has been read in the Senate, and was referred to the Senate Committee on Education. ~webmaster)