COLORADO SPRINGS — On July 8, a longtime District 49 teacher wrote her name down on a list of people, each asking for a chance to address the board of education, and waited. This particular meeting, which stretched through midnight, included hours of public and board member commentary, regarding a proposed resolution to ban Critical Race Theory from the district’s K-12 schools.
When Linda Rogers was called to the mic, she didn’t hesitate.
“Five months ago I stood at this same podium to accept my Fantastic 49 Award,” she said, facing a row of five seated board members. “I was recognized by my peers, with your approval, for my work regarding equity and inclusion in this district.”
But that night wasn’t all celebratory, she recalled.
“That same night we had protests and speakers voicing their concerns about an art assignment that involved a topic of Black Lives Matters. The same night that equity was celebrated and rewarded, teaching about it was challenged in the same school district. Five months later, we’re still talking about race and equity,” she said. “And not in a good way.”
The board’s proposed resolution, prepared by Board Director Ivy Liu and Board Secretary Rick Van Wieren, and approved by Board President John Graham, defines CRT with the following quote from Edweek.com: “that racism is a social construct, and that it is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.
The resolution also includes in part:
“It is ironic,” Rogers said, “that the very thing that I was recognized for just a few months ago is what you want to ban. Do you care about fairness? The same words you take issue with are the real experiences of mine and… others like me.”
But Graham doesn’t see it that way.
“We’re not going to divide our students between white and Black, between brown and Black, between disabled and anybody else,” Graham said during the meeting. “That is the purpose of prohibiting CRT.”
And the BOE plans to vote on it in August.
“No one’s teaching CRT. As a former sixth grade social studies teacher, I know that teachers follow the Colorado State Standards,” Rogers argued.
Some scholars agree that the board’s interpretation of CRT may not appreciate the complexities of the concept.
CRT, which originated in the 1970s, is a theoretical perspective for understanding history and legislation in the United States for scholastic purposes, according to Stephany Rose Spaulding, who serves as interim associate vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion at the University of Colorado Springs at Colorado.
“It’s a lens that people have used to read literature,” Spaulding said. “It’s a lens that people have used to read history, popular culture, government – but it comes out of critical legal studies.”
At the core of CRT, Spaulding said, is this question: If even the law is saying that we are equal and equitable, why is it not playing out in the institutions of our society?
“That is the question that a lot of CRT scholars are asking. ‘Why is there still inequity in housing? Why is there still inequity in education? Why is there still inequity in employment rates and heathcare, if the law is articulating that racism is no longer a factor?'” she explained.
And, she said, it’s not a concept K-12 students would understand.
“It’s not even being taught in K-12 education,” Spaulding clarified. “It is so complex that it takes, you know – grad students have a hard time understanding what Critical Race Theory is.”
But it isn’t the complexity that concerns Graham. In fact, he asserted CRT is illegal and said it, “goes against the Civil Rights Act.”
“[CRT is] not about teaching history,” he said. “It’s about dividing the American people, based on race, into people of color against people who [are white].”
A fact check revealed that in Colorado, no state-level action has been taken and no bills have been introduced.
Other board members posed potential logistical issues as well.
“Who patrols this?” asked Treasurer Dave Cruson. “Who keeps an eye on what’s said and what’s not said? The difficulty lies in the fact that we are not trusting our teachers to lay out an opportunity to teach American history – full American history – without holding anything back. But also not driving it in a particular direction that we are afraid of. What are we afraid of?”
The district’s chief education officer questioned why the board would write their resolution without input from their Equity Leadership Advisory Council, which is not currently in session.
Dr. Louis Fletcher heads ELAC and confirmed the council did not see the original resolution. Fletcher said, after the board meeting, he put together a process by which ELAC members could review the resolution and suggest changes. He said they plan to submit those notes within the next several days.
If the board does vote to ban CRT in D49, Fletcher says not much will change.
“The net effect on the curriculum would be zero,” he said.
That’s because, he said, the district will still be compelled to comply with federal laws, state laws, and state standards.
Still, Graham said the BOE felt moved to act now, due to what “what members of [the] board were seeing happen across the country,” and in response to concerned D49 parents.
“Some people want to say, ‘what’s the immediacy?’ said Graham, when questioned. “Well, the immediacy is now we have people teaching this at the Air Force Academy. Now we have the [National Education Association] saying, ‘we will push this.’ We have teachers saying, ‘we will push this.'”
Earlier this month, an associate professor of political science at the U.S. Air Force Academy – which is both a military organization and a university – not a K-12 – did publish an article in The Washington Post titled, in part, “Here’s why I teach critical race theory.”
In that editorial, Lynne Chandler Garcia wrote, “I teach critical race theories to our nation’s future military leaders because it is vital that cadets understand the history of the racism that has shaped both foreign and domestic policy.”
In a statement to FOX21 News a USAFA representative said, in part, “while some elements from CRT canon are included in a political science course to encourage critical thinking, it is not a theory endorsed by the institution as institutional doctrine.”
But the academy said it does encourage cadets to engage in critical thinking and discourse, which may drive some classroom discussion on tenets of critical race theory.
“I don’t coddle my cadets out of fear that exposure to certain literatures might make them uncomfortable or test their existing beliefs,” Chandler Garcia wrote. “Cadets must learn to be brave on the literal battlefield, yes — but they must also be equipped to participate bravely on the battlefield of ideas.”
To Graham’s point, the National Education Association has been more vocal about allowing CRT in schools.
In a statement to FOX21, an NEA representative wrote that those who oppose CRT “are trying to censor what teachers teach to stop kids from learning our full history and shared stories of confronting injustice to build a more perfect union.”
However, in an email exchange, that representative also said, “critical race theory isn’t happening in K-12 classrooms” citing a national NBC article. The representative declined to answer follow-up questions regarding whether their organization believed CRT should be taught in K-12 and whether educators in those grade levels would even be equipped to do so.
A recent study conducted by the Association of American Educators, a non-union, non-partisan organization, “found that the majority of respondents had not incorporated Critical Race Theory in their curriculum nor were they expecting to do so in the 2021-2022 school year.”
The survey showed that, nationwide, only 4% of educators said they were being mandated to teach CRT. But it also revealed a level of reticence in broaching the subject of race at all.
“This sample of educator perspective confirms that the vast majority of educators want a healthy learning environment for all children and most believe curricula should reflect a diverse group of cultures, but are far less sure about the value of critical race theory. Six in ten respondents think the media is paying too much attention to the issue and more than half of respondents reported being apprehensive about saying the wrong thing regarding race and getting in trouble,” said AAE Foundation Director of Advocacy Kira Tookes.
In contrast to the district’s board, D49 Chief Education Officer Peter Hilts says some elements of CRT may be unavoidable in classrooms.
“In civics you have to teach about specific groups. You have to teach about the intersection of identities within those specific groups, and the impact on access to opportunities within society. That’s statutory. That’s a statutory requirement,” he said. “If I was a social studies teacher right now, this resolution as currently worded would put me in a bind. Because… there are conflicts in the wording of this resolution that are going to create real problems for the staff that we lead.”
And some questioned whether the board should be involved in the CRT conversation at all.
Cassandra Barry, who identified herself as a parent “in Falcon Zone” asked the board if they had reviewed the policy IMB-R: Teaching about Controversial/Sensitive Issues, which is currently in place.
“The policy states that teachers and principals determine what should be taught to our students,” she said. “Not the board, which is currently made up of persons with no background in teaching. But I do want to help. So, my advice to you is to stop. You’re not informed enough to vote or even discuss this theory.”
Most of the other Southern Colorado school districts are steering clear of the topic – as much as they can.
Colorado Springs School District 11 is taking a different approach.
“In May of 2020, D11 did something pretty bold,” said Alexis Knox-Miller, D11’s first Director of Equity and Inclusion. “They passed the first equity policy.”
According to the district’s website, the policy was established to:
- Create solutions that level the playing field while concurrently raising the bar for all students.
- Provide safe school environments for all students.
- Provide students with the appropriate resources needed to achieve success.
- Examine biases, interrupt and eliminate inequitable practices, and create inclusive and just conditions for all students.
“We acknowledge that there are some students within our system that are not doing well,” said Knox-Miller. “And they’re not doing well – not through any fault of their own – but because of some things that are inherent within our system that are not equal or equitable. And we need to fix that.”
Knox-Miller also touched on the district’s adherence to state standards, saying she thinks the message has gotten away from us.
“Your kindergartner is still going to learn how to read. We’re going to be focused on phonics and number sense,” she said. “If we’re focusing on social studies, we have standards. For kindergartners it’s usually your home, ‘who is your family?’ We’re going to focus on those things. We’re not going to be talking about social justice or protesting.”
She says she doesn’t think CRT is “Marxist” or “evil,” as some critics have described it. Including D49 Board Secretary Rick Van Wieren.
“CRT is Marxist and we should not be teaching our students and staff to be Marxist,” he said. “CRT is a way of looking at the world that I, as an individual board member, do not want to see taught. That in no way diminishes my own personal commitment to see that we’re being fair in the way the district is being operated and that discrimination, in any form, is not part of our culture.”
Scholars, like Spaulding, tend to disagree.
“CRT is being used as a gaslight in this moment,” she said. “And I say this not just as an opinion. But from a scholastic, academic perspective from one who teaches Critical Race Theory. Most of the people who are talking about it and saying that it needs to banned don’t know what it is. Because you can’t even ban it. There’s not a way to ban it. Because it is a way of examining and looking at scholarship.”
Knox-Miller agrees the argument used to link CRT with Marxism is weak.
“I like to think of ‘equity’ as this umbrella kind of term that has very specific strategies that support the work,” she said. “So, when I talk about equity in the classroom, I’m talking about culturally responsive pedagogy. That doesn’t mean we’re going to teach in a way that makes white kids feel guilty about their lives. If you’re culturally responsive, you are responsive to the needs of the white kids in your classroom, you’re responsive to the needs of the Black kids in your classroom, you’re responsive to the needs of the kids who have IEPs in your classroom.”
Parents are split on the issue as well. Tillie Elvrum is an education consultant who has worked at the local, state, and federal level.
“I think the point of contention between different parents’ groups — obviously, there are Black and brown families across the country who feel like their students haven’t been served well in the traditional school system,” she said. “And they feel like their kids haven’t been taught the full, rich history of the country – including our racial past. And we haven’t really dealt with systemic racism in the country. And then there’s another population of parents, I think, who are operating out of fear. And they are afraid that their children are going to be judged on their immutable traits. And that we’re getting further away from MLK’s dream that we would be judged on the content of our character and not on the color of our skin.”
The current resolution banning CRT is on the D49 BOE’s August 12 agenda as an action item. Any revisions must be submitted by August 4.
The decision will be a meaningful one across Colorado and beyond.
“I encourage you to stop, pause, and reflect on this before you proceed,” Linda Rogers said, before leaving the podium to the next speaker.