Black Lives Matter protest in Oklahoma city, Oklahoma. Photo credit: Zach Lucero

State Education Board adopts temporary rules on teaching race, gender in Oklahoma public schools

Formal guidance on how to implement the teaching of race and gender in public school has been offered by the Oklahoma State Board of Education. 

The Oklahoma State Board of Education decided to create temporary rules giving school districts guidelines on instruction for the 2021-2022 school year. This action will constrain certain educational pedagogic methods on race, gender and history. 

Dalvin Spann of Columbia, South Carolina a parent of high school students mentioned, “It is very important as a parent that our teachers teach the full history, positive or negative, when we leave out parts and only highlight the lesser of two evils it subconsciously creates a false hope narrative.”

| Read: Supreme Court rules that a large portion of Oklahoma is Native territory

To clamp down on the state’s curriculum in dealing with issues around racism and sexual identity, this past May, Republician Governor Kevin Stitt and the state passed Oklahoma House Bill 1775 .  The new law prohibits the teachings of sex or racial superiority, and determines  anyone, by virtue of their race or sex, as inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously. 

Moreover, HB 1775  limits instruction on institutional racism, white privilege, and concepts of critical race theory. Added, the bill prohibits certain students in specific institutions from being required to engage in particular training or counseling programs. Additionally, it restricts orientation or requirement that presents any form of stereotyping or bias. Prohibits employees of certain schools from requiring distinct notions to be part of a course.  

Bills, bills, bills

As for consequences of failure to comply with HB 1775, the emergency rules suggest that, “at a minimum,” the state accreditation status of the school be downgraded to “accredited with deficiency.” They also propose a probationary period of one academic year to correct such deficiencies. Furthermore, the Oklahoma Department of Education could suspend the license or certificate of any school employee found in violation of HB 1775 or the adopted rules.

Despite the rigorous objections from the Oklahoma Parent Teacher Association, the bill was signed into law. Through a public statement urging PTA members to contact governor Stitt’s office, they stated, “[HB 1775] runs contrary to the PTA’s position on racism and diversity, equity and inclusion, and that a prohibition on teachers advocating racial superiority and similar concepts does not allow us to move forward with a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive future for our students.”

The Oklahoma PTA statement refers to links in the National PTA’s positions on implicit bias, encouraging  all school staff to be trained.

The president of Oklahoma University, Joseph Harroz Jr. also advocated against HB 1775. He said that “the new law has colleagues calling into question the sacrosanct matter of academic freedom.” Harroz Jr added that he does not believe the measure will pass constitutional scrutiny. 

Race to the top 

According to US News, Oklahoma ranks number 42 in education in the country. Photo credit: Zach Lucero

Law professor,  Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, defined Critical Race Theory (CRT) as  the practice of incorporating the role of race and racism in society.  It critiques how the social construct of race is institutionalized, and continues a caste system that places people of color on the bottom tier. 

The American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten remarked that the removal of the theory is about “Culture warriors [who] are trying to make CRT toxic, bullying teachers and trying to stop us from teaching students accurate history.”

Sherry East, president of the South Carolina Education Association mentioned, “We do not teach CRT in South Carolina, it is not part of the South Carolina standards. We believe in honesty in teaching.” 

CRT acknowledges the long legacy of slavery, segregation and the second-class treatment of Black Americans among others, as an ongoing thread of the American social fabric. In the area of education, Daniel Solorzano identified tenets of CRT that challenge the status quo philosophy while prioritizing social welfare, especially that of the Black experience. 

| Read: Captain Marvel shifts your perspective on the face, race, and gender of a hero

Solorzano explained that CRT, “using multiple approaches from a variety of disciplines to analyze racism within both historical and contemporary contexts, such as women’s studies, sociology, history, law, psychology, film, theater, and other fields.”

During a hearing before the House education committee Thursday, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona relayed “that his department would leave curriculum decisions to state and local officials, citing the importance of local management in curriculum issues, wanting to avoid federal government interference.” 

The Secretary “trusts that educators will do their jobs, including teaching the history and progress America made in challenging racism.” He continued. “We need to be honest about some of the things we’re not proud of.” 

Since Cordona has placed a greater emphasis on the local control of school systems, it suggests that he will not be a part of the controversy. The Department of Education is barred by federal law from stating what is taught in the local school system. 

Lawsuits

An opposition group, Parents Defending Education, has filed federal civil rights complaints against multiple school districts, including one outside of Chicago. They claim that the districts have described themselves as systemically racist and that they admitted to illegal discrimination. 

In addition, these lawsuits are intended to deter other school districts from making acknowledgements of past racism. They also argued that as districts discuss systematic racism in the schools, they are admitting to a violation of federal law. As a result, school districts incorporating CRT in their curriculum should lose federal monies  and be subject to penalties. 

At a Congressional hearing on education, prior national teacher of the year and U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT), stated “I’m a history teacher, I had to teach about the most painful parts of our history.” She continued. “There are some things in our history that we just have to face head on.”

April Jones founded Pinehurst Farmers Market located in Columbia, S.C. She is an advocate for her community in the food justice and food sovereignty movement, and is passionate about community, gardens, and farmer markets.

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