Alabama state school board: Keep critical race theory out of classroom | #Education

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A topic that has flared up across the country came unannounced in Alabama, where leaders have been quietly discussing how to approach teaching race and racism in K-12 public schools.

At a Thursday work session, Alabama State Board of Education members discussed a potential resolution declaring the “preservation of intellectual freedom” in Alabama public schools and critiqued the concept of critical race theory, an academic framework more than 40 years old that describes racism as not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also as a social construct embedded in American society.

According to Chalkbeat, 21 states this year have considered legislation and policy to restrict discussions of racism and bias in the classroom — but Alabama was not yet one of them.

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State Superintendent Eric Mackey said he met Wednesday with Gov. Kay Ivey, who is up for reelection in 2022, about fears of critical race theory being taught in Alabama’s schools. Mackey said he has heard from all board members about whether Alabama should take a position in the national debate.

“We want to make a clear statement about what we believe,” Mackey told board members. “At the same time we want to be cautious that we don’t get in a place where we end up in a First Amendment lawsuit if a teacher sets up a debate and has two sides of an issue or something like that.”

The first resolution presented to the board was a copy of the Georgia Board of Education’s anti-CRT resolution, approved last week.

The second draft, which Mackey said he had worked with Ivey’s education policy advisor to write, includes the statement, “The Alabama State Board of Education believes the United States of America is not an inherently racist county, and that the state of Alabama is not an inherently racist state.”

Another section of the draft resolution states “that no individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

The resolution would also prohibit the teaching of “concepts that impute fault, blame, a tendency to oppress others or the need to feel guilt or anguish to persons solely because of their race or sex” in public schools.

It was not included on the board’s previously published agenda nor on the agenda made available at the work session.

It’s unclear if the resolution bans or otherwise restricts anything teachers are currently teaching.

Read more: Attorney General Steve Marshall criticizes federal guidelines promoting 1619 Project

Board member Tracie West said she has heard from constituents in her district, which covers portions of east and south Alabama, who are concerned about critical race theory being taught in Alabama’s schools. She and board member Stephanie Bell said people contacting her are concerned about critical race theory dividing children against each other.

Critical race theory is not mentioned as a term in Alabama’s current social studies curriculum, and board members did not describe specific schools or lessons they might take issue with, other than a theoretical use of The 1619 Project in classrooms. The project was a groundbreaking effort from The New York Times journalists and historians to describe the impacts of racism and slavery in America since the year African slaves arrived on the continent.

Board member Wayne Reynolds said he saw the proposed resolutions as a “statement of equality.”

“I’m trying not to offend anyone, but I do disagree that [critical race theory] should belong in K-12 classrooms,” West told AL.com.

Board member Tonya Chestnut said she favors a delay in adopting the resolution, and Reynolds concurred, saying he wants the process to be “deliberate” to make sure the board is clear in what they want to say.

No board members spoke against the proposed resolutions.

Mike Tafelski, a senior supervising attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Children’s Rights Practice Group in Alabama, said the organization stands with educators who “are committed to their obligation to teach the truth” in Alabama classrooms.

“Today’s announcement by the Alabama State Board of Education is an obvious dog whistle for a racist movement largely influenced by highly-organized conservative groups to intimidate educators and prevent them from teaching any lessons about the history of race in our country,” he said.

Alabama educators have participated in some discussions about racism and cultural sensitivity in the past year — but quietly.

After George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis policeman in 2020, former state board education member Tommie Stewart asked what the state could do to help teachers dismantle racism and address continued unrest.

“I bet you, in every school, there’s somebody there that could chair a committee for the school and help with sensitivity and character development training,” Stewart told AL.com at the time.

“We are, as educators, another arm, embracing children in the family of development,” she said.

State officials, in partnership with the AEA, developed training sessions for about 700 educators. A new group of programs will be offered this summer, a state department official said, focused on embracing diversity and enhancing teacher sensitivity to multiple cultures in the classroom.

The new debate about critical race theory comes at a time when state efforts to restrict teaching about racism and bias have multiplied across the country. Some states, like Arkansas, have sought to prohibit funds from districts that taught the 1619 Project. In others, lawmakers and state leaders, including Georgia’s Brian Kemp, have authored legislation and penned letters opposing the teaching of critical race theory in public schools.

Florida’s Board of Education banned the topic Thursday, following a push from Gov. Ron DeSantis, who said it denigrated the Founding Fathers and taught children “to hate their country.”

With Alabama’s social studies course of study currently under review, Mackey told board members that about 20 groups have asked to submit input into the new social studies standards. Those groups — ranging from representatives of the Creek Nation to the Alabama Historical Commission — have submitted 10-minute videos to the committee, he said.

“I want to make it clear,” Mackey told board members, “that none of those are associated though with the 1619 Project or CRT.”

Board member Stephanie Bell said she wants the resolution in place before the start of the coming school year.

“That would signal to locals at the start of the school year that this is something to watch out for,” she said.

Mackey asked board members for input on a final resolution. The earliest possible vote would be during the board’s Aug. 12 meeting.



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