Critical race theory, which has caused uproar in school districts across the country, could soon be barred from being taught in Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District classrooms.
Despite the expected ban, district officials have said critical race theory is not being taught in classrooms and many educators say the theory acknowledges racism has been embedded in social structures, institutions and laws and is taught in higher level college law courses.
The district’s board of trustees at their Tuesday night meeting voted 4-1 on a first reading of a resolution banning the theory, potentially joining a list of states who have already outlawed it.
Nonetheless, some parents said critical race theory is being taught in the district and came out to the meeting to support the ban.
The resolution will still have to come back before the school board for another vote before being finalized and board members decided Tuesday night to hold a future study session to hammer out what they define as critical race theory and what exactly will be banned.
Board President Karin Freeman was the dissenting vote and said it was because she did not agree with the title of the resolution.
Prior to Tuesday’s vote, the board held a study session on the resolution where they made edits to the proposal.
The board debated on what specifically should be banned and decided not to use the Britanica definition of critical race theory in resolution as originally proposed. The board’s yet to decide on their definition.
“Anything that’s going to disparage one particular race, one particular group should be discouraged at all cost,” said Trustee Shawn Youngblood about what should be banned.
Residents, educators and parents also weighed in on the issue.
“Critical race theory perpetuates the victim mindset,” said a woman who spoke at the study session Tuesday and identified as Amy. “We need to teach our children to appreciate and value the country they live in and work to continually improve it, not try to break it down, divide them into oppressed versus oppressor and create distrust of their peers.”
The vote to ban the theory comes amid concerns from some parents who don’t believe their elected officials actually understand what the theory is about.
Groups like Voices For PYLUSD — made up of parents, teachers and students in the district — have taken to social media arguing that the proposed ban is dangerous because it relies on government censorship, undermines free speech and threatens educators — referencing an article by PEN America — an organization dedicated to the freedom to write.
The local group launched a petition to oppose the district ban on critical race theory.
Some parents are concerned the ban is too vague and worry about the impact it will have on discussions about race and racism.
They also worry about the impacts it will have on how history is taught in the district, especially on lessons regarding laws that had to do with race like the Chinese Exclusion Act, slavery or Jim Crow laws.
“It certainly seems like this resolution is currently drafted and using the definition laid out could very well lead to us disallowing any teaching about laws that have been passed in U.S. history which dealt with various groups being legally discriminated against in the past,” said Jeremy Kelly, a history teacher in the school district.
“My concern is that the path you are setting up … could lead to possible censorship,” he said.
Some students also came out to speak against the ban and some shared their own experiences with racism in the district.
The ban comes during a year when OC school districts are wrestling with how history is being taught and what parts are being left out.
Many OC parents, teachers and students — from different racial backgrounds — have called on school boards for more inclusion of people of color in the curriculum and deviation from what they say is a “white washed version” of history.
Last month, California became the first state to require high school students to take a semester-long ethnic studies course after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation mandating the course as a requirement beginning with the graduating class of 2029-30.
Meanwhile, there are also OC parents, educators and students — from various racial backgrounds — who worry ethnic studies is a guise for critical race theory.
Concerns that the theory is seeping into schools started to pop up in school district board meetings across OC early this year as districts debated implementing ethnic studies courses, creating social justice standards and renewing contracts for anti-bullying training.
Opponents of the theory said it teaches kids that all white people are racist, while victimizing people of color.
Critics of the theory also say it’s racist, marxist and call it anti-American.
Some speakers on Tuesday said they have no issue with ethnic studies being taught or discussion on racism — but objected to critical race theory.
Many, however, say critics of the theory don’t know what it is and are using it as a boogeyman of sorts to stifle any conversations on race in the classroom.
They argue the debate on ethnic studies and critical race theory has been riddled with misinformation.
What Is Critical Race Theory?
Numerous forums and discussions on the theory have taken place in OC to address concerns about the theory.
“It’s a methodology — an evolving methodology, it’s no one thing. But it asks — specifically — how racism shapes our social structures, our institutions, our culture, including law. So it assumes that law is part and parcel of culture,” said UC Davis law professor Lisa Ikemoto during an October panel hosted by Cal State Fullerton.
Panelists also spoke about the impact bans of critical race theory can have.
“We are living through a moment in which this kind of socially and politically constructed hysteria has been used to produce some of the most restrictive laws around what you or I could teach regarding the history of a country,” said Saul Sarabia, the first administrative director for UCLA School of Law’s critical race studies and a speaker at CSUF’s panel.
The California School Boards Association also put out a FAQ sheet to address what the theory is about.
“(Critical race theory) emphasizes race as a social construct with social significance, not a biological reality. It acknowledges that racism is embedded within systems and institutions that replicate racial inequality — codified in law, embedded in structures, and woven into public policy,” according to the California School Boards Association.
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.
During a July panel, Maimon Schwarzschild, a critic of the theory and professor of law at the University of San Diego, told OC Board of Education Trustees that some of the characteristics of the theory evoke practices of totalitarian regimes.
“Critical race theory as actually adopted in K-12 classrooms has been tellingly described as the kind of curriculum that might be imposed on a defeated country by a conquering power, determined to divide and demoralize the defeated population,” he said.
The County board is expected to put out a white paper on the forums next month.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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