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The Republican war on “critical race theory” began in the closing months of Trump’s term in office, when he denounced it and called for “patriotic education.” One Republican state after another began passing resolutions and laws banning the teaching of CRT, which was interpreted to mean teaching about racism or anything that might make “some” children feel uncomfortable or be “divisive.” Teaching about the Ku Klux Klan or white supremacy apparently made some children feel uncomfortable.
Jan Resseger reports that the Ohio State Board of Education repealed a 2020 anti-racism resolution, since any such proposal are “divisive.” She goes into detail about the national reach of the Republican effort to eliminate anti-racist materials from the schools.
Late on Wednesday night, the Ohio State Board of Education repealed Resolution 20, an important declaration passed in the summer of 2020 directing the Ohio Department of Education to establish staff diversity training and launch a curriculum review intended to reduce racism and bias in the state’s public schools.
The Columbus Dispatch’s Anna Staver reports: “Ohio’s State Board of Education repealed an anti-racism resolution Wednesday night and replaced it with one condemning any teachings that ‘seek to divide.’” Staver explains that the 2020 anti-racism resolution: “condemned hate crimes and white supremacy movements ‘in the strongest possible terms,’ but it also directed the Ohio Department of Education to teach its employees about implicit bias. Local school boards were asked to review their graduation rates, discipline records and classroom resources… Opponents… argued that (the resolution) opened the door for districts to teach ‘disturbing’ and ‘divisive’ material about racism and identity.”
State Board member Brandon Shea drafted Resolution 13, a counter statement which eventually passed but without some of Shea’s proposed language. Shea’s proposal, according to Staver’s report, “observed not only a growing national divide but a troubling focus on the color of one’s skin rather than on the content of one’s character.’” Shea’s proposal also condemned “critical race theory.”
While Staver reports that Resolution 13, as passed, removes the incendiary language about critical race theory, the replacement resolution condemns “any language that seeks to divide” and “any standards, curriculum, or training programs for students, teachers, or staff that seek to ascribe circumstances or qualities, such as collective guilt, moral deficiency, or racial bias, to a whole race or group of people.” This is, of course, language that conforms to the prescriptions of far right ideologues who want to protect the white majority from looking honestly at white privilege and examining the history of slavery and racism in the United States.
For The Intercept, Akela Lacy summarized the original July 2020 resolution which was rescinded on Wednesday night: “The resolution, introduced by board President Laura Kohler, acknowledges that ‘Ohio’s education system has not been immune’ to racism and inequality, and that ‘while we earnestly strive to correct them, we have a great deal of work left to do.’ It calls for the state education board to offer board members implicit bias training, programs designed to help people understand their own unconscious biases and the ways stereotypes can distort their beliefs; for all state Department of Education employees and contractors to take the training; for the department to reexamine curricula for racial bias; and for school districts to examine curricula and practices for hiring, staff development, and student discipline.”
As Lacy explains, ever since the original resolution passed, there has been an outcry from members of the public and a loud minority within the State Board itself complaining that the resolution constitutes “critical race theory.” Under pressure, the State Board finally asked Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost to determine whether the resolution is constitutional. He let the resolution stand, saying such a determination is outside his authority, except, he said, the State Board cannot impose these mandates on private contractors. For months, the resolution has been the subject of hearings in the Ohio House of Representatives’ State and Local Government Committee, where hundreds of educators and members of the public have offered testimony in favor of last year’s resolution. However, at one hearing, Lacy reports that one member of the State Board of Education, Diana Fessler, openly defended white supremacy.
It would be one thing if this sort of battle were happening only in Ohio’s state board of education, but instead the same fight is being reported in local school boards all across the country. And the arguments and downright fights are highly politicized. In the Washington Post, Adam Laats reported: “Conflicts (have) roiled school board meetings across the country, over a range of hot-button issues: masks, vaccines, policies for trans athletes, Critical Race Theory. The conflicts moved past yelling, to lawsuits and demands for recalls—and not just of individual members but entire boards. Over and over again, local school board meetings have turned from staid discussions of budgets and staffing to heated ideological forums, hosting a go-nowhere series of fights that have little to do with the actual needs of the local schools. Conservative pundits have talked up these confrontations as part of a larger political strategy… Why have school boards become ground zero for these aggressive ideological skirmishes? Quite simply: They are accessible. Most meetings are open to the public, in local town halls or school district offices; their members are local volunteers, who usually have no campaign war chests or partisan election support… And if school board meetings are disrupted, members recalled, teachers threatened, students intimidated, it is that much harder for schools to function and children to learn.”
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