The Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School Board might ban critical race theory tonight — amid concerns from some parents who argue the trustees don’t know what the theory is, while others are support a ban.

The board members’ upcoming Tuesday vote on the theory comes as school districts throughout Orange County have been debating implementing ethnic studies for high schoolers, while some critics say the class is a guise for critical race theory.

Yet school district officials across the county say the college-level theory isn’t being taught in elementary and high schools, and is separate from ethnic studies.

Priya Shah, a parent in the district, argued that the Placentia-Yorba Linda school board members don’t understand what the theory is.

“I do not believe that the board fully understands what critical race theory is because if they did, their resolution wouldn’t be self contradictory,” Shah said in a Monday morning phone interview.

The Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District board narrowly passed development of an elective ethnic studies course as part of the district’s 2021-22 Local Control and Accountability plan.

The vote came after the board approved a resolution condemning racism and promising to implement an ethnic studies course for the district’s high schools following a petition and pressure from some educators, parents and alumni to reform the curriculum.​​

“The ban is overly vague. It contradicts the district’s own condemnation of racism and desire to maintain a safe positive school environment and have culturally relevant curriculum,” Shah said, worrying the critical race theory ban would give the board complete control over all curriculum taught in social science and history classes.

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Some parents in the district have voiced support for the ban and have been speaking out against critical race theory at school board meetings.

While others on social media are calling out the board for the potential ban and last month, a group of parents and a student called on the board to stop trying to stifle conversations on race.

“[The school district] desires to uplift and unite students by freeing them from the responsibility of historical transgressions in the past and instead will engage students of all cultures in age-appropriate critical thinking that helps students navigate the present and the future,” reads the resolution.

Shah questioned what happens to history classes if the board bans critical race theory.

“So if we’re banning CRT, are they going to teach that race is a biological fact?” Shah questioned. “Are they going to pretend that Jim Crow was not the law for all those years? Are they going to not teach our students about the Dred Scott decision?”

If the Placentia-Yorba Linda School Board moves forward with the ban they won’t be alone.

Some states have also banned the theory amid the national debate on how history should be taught in high school and a push for a greater inclusion of the history of people of color in America.

[Read: Placentia-Yorba Linda School Board May Ban Critical Race Theory After State Mandates Ethnic Studies]

What is Critical Race Theory?

According to the California School Boards Association, the concept of critical race theory was developed by a Harvard Law professor Derrick Bell in the mid-70s as critical legal studies.

The association also found that while ethnic studies may have some elements of critical race theory, the two courses are different and the theory isn’t widely taught in school districts.

“​​Although certain approaches to ethnic studies may incorporate elements of CRT — as these concepts are both concerned with how race is constructed and the political, historical, social and cultural effects of race and ethnicity — they are not synonymous or interchangeable,” reads an overview

“There is no evidence that CRT is widespread in K-12 education.”

In October, Cal State Fullerton’s politics, administration and justice division hosted a panel discussion on critical race theory in an effort to clear up confusion on the topic. 

Panelists said the theory looks at how race intersects with other aspects of identity like gender and how race helps shape social structures, institutions and laws.

[Read: Cal State Fullerton Hosts Critical Race Theory Panel Amid Heated National Debate]

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Meanwhile, parents are showing up to school board meetings throughout the county and the nation, claiming critical race theory is being taught in elementary and high schools and speaking out against it.

While some parents and groups are looking to ban the theory, local school district officials say the theory isn’t being taught in schools.

Many parents argue that ethnic studies courses are a guise for what they’re calling critical race theory.

They say the theory is anti-American, divisive and teaches kids that all white people are racist, while victimizing people of color. 

Critics also argue that the theory will subject students to political indoctrination and marxist ideology. 

Earlier this year, the Orange County Board of Education held two forums on ethnic studies and critical race theory where a group of panelists shared concerns about critical race theory and the state’s ethnic studies curriculum.

[Read: OC Board of Education Hosts Forum as Heated Debate Over Ethnic Studies Continues]

The board is expected to put out a white paper on the forums next month.

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Debate surrounding critical race theory and ethnic studies has heated up to the point where parents are trying to recall school district officials.

In the Tustin Unified School District, three trustees are facing a recall effort over concerns that the theory is being taught at schools in the district.

There is also an effort to recall trustees in the Los Alamitos Unified School District over issues like Newsom’s expected vaccine mandate for students and critical race theory.

The Tustin Unified School District recently started to offer an elective ethnic studies course this year, while Los Alamitos trustees also approved an elective ethnic studies course earlier this year.

More Ethnic Studies Courses Coming to OC Classrooms

In the next few years, high schools across Orange County and California will have to offer ethnic studies courses and students will even be required to take the course to graduate following a new state law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in October.  

The Fullerton Joint Union High School District is developing a pilot ethnic studies course for the 2022 fall semester that is expected to eventually fulfill that graduation requirement.

A committee of teachers from each school in the district have met five times since the summer to start developing the course.

“Each of our campuses will offer the course on the student registration cards in February 2022. Students’ interests in the course will determine if the course is offered on a school campus and how many sections or classes of the course there will be,” said Marvin Atkins, Principal of Sonora High School who leads the committee, at the district board meeting last week.

“We will also have the opportunity to refine the course prior to it becoming a graduation requirement for the class of 2030,” he said.

Like other school officials, Atkins also said ethnic studies and critical race theory aren’t synonmous. 

Alumni and students have been pushing the district for an ethnic studies graduation requirement with an online petition calling for the district to create the requirement garnering  over 770 signatures. 

[Read: Will Fullerton High School District Require Ethnic Studies? Los Alamitos District Passes Social Justice Standards ]

“We want ethnic studies for Fullerton Joint Union High School District to have an anchor that will help keep our course grounded in the foundational principles of our community (and) of our stakeholders. We believe this course is important to the better understanding of our community around us and for our collective future,” Atkins said.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.


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