The Chehalis School District says its school board did not ban the teaching of critical race theory (CRT) lessons last month when the school board approved a statement on equity as required by a new Washington state law.
An article published last week by the partisan Washington Policy Center, a Seattle-based independent, nonprofit think tank, and later republished in The Chronicle, suggested the Chehalis School Board rejected CRT, saying it had “responded to the concerns of parents and passed a resolution banning the teaching of controversial critical race theory (CRT) in public school classrooms.”
That doesn’t appear to be the case, the district says. But the district is also not teaching CRT.
“The official stance is we’re not adopting it as a curriculum. Period,” district spokesman Andy Lynch said by phone Tuesday.
Aside from one paragraph that mentions race in the district’s equity statement, nowhere does it explicitly say the district would ban or prevent its instructors from teaching the material. Lynch also confirmed that the statement does not serve as an elicit ban on CRT.
“We will not teach Chehalis students that people, due to their race or background, are inherently good or bad, guilty or innocent, (or) more or less capable than others,” read part of the school district’s new equity statement.
Instead of answering more questions poised by The Chronicle, Lynch opted to provide a list of “common messages” the district takes on the topic.
Critical race theory, defined by some as an academic movement seeking to critically examine the law as it intersects with issues of race, has become a controversial education issue in recent months within statehouses, at school board meetings and in classrooms.
The subject has an uncertain definition within the context of education, with some conservative voices using the phrase as a sort of “catch all” for any sort of reexamination of history or social studies. Some have also interpreted CRT as an effort to demonize white people, though that’s been disputed.
An analysis from the American Bar Association says the practice grew from an analysis called Critical Legal Studies, which argues that the law was not “objective or apolitical.”
“Like proponents of CLS, critical race theorists recognized that the law could be complicit in maintaining an unjust social order. Where critical race theorists departed from CLS was in the recognition of how race and racial inequality were reproduced through the law … Many CRT scholars had witnessed how the law could be used to help secure and protect civil rights,” read the analysis published earlier this year.
Seven statehouses across the country have signed into law bills banning CRT in varying capacities, according to Education Week. At least 13 statehouses have seen similar proposals or bills filed.
While Washington’s Democrat-controlled Legislature isn’t one of those statehouses looking to ban CRT, Washington state Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal has said repeatedly that the subject is not being taught in Washington state curriculum and that there is no plan for it to be.
He also called CRT discussion “manufactured rage for political purposes.”
“Teaching both sides of history, where we’ve made progress in race and where we’re still dragging some of that in our institutions and our laws and our decisions, that’s just good teaching,” Reykdal told KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show. “Getting young people to think critically about the world they live in is just good social studies. We’ve been doing it for decades, and CRT has been living out there in the theory of higher ed for those same four decades but suddenly now it’s this political talking point.”
Reykdal also said legislation that’s been worked out in the state Legislature also doesn’t align with the traditional definition of what CRT is.
Senate Bill 5044 — which was passed earlier this year and aims to address issues of equity and cultural competency, and to “dismantle institutional racism in the public school system” — is one law CRT critics have flagged in recent weeks as legislation specifically tied to CRT.
This new law is what’s prompting the Chehalis School District and others around the state to draft equity statements. The law also requires professional development training for staff on topics including diversity, cultural competency and inclusion.
But Chehalis School Board Member J. Vander Stoep said the district’s equity statement is something he believes 95% of all families and community members can get behind. He said it was drafted and passed in collaborative fashion between the board.
“In this polarized society, people are going to look at our policy statement and try to pull it one way or another,” Vander Stoep said.
According to the Chehalis School District’s common messages sheet, while no curriculum is being taught at W.F. West High School about CRT, it may be “referenced in an individual lesson in current events or U.S. history demonstrating perspective.”
The district also says it encourages the “free and orderly flow” for students to arrange facts, discriminate between facts and opinion, discuss differing viewpoints, analyze problems and draw their own tentative conclusions.