Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District Trustees could become the first Orange County school officials to ban Critical Race Theory from the classroom when they meet in two weeks.

On Wednesday, trustees at a special study session took another step forward with the proposed ban they have been planning for months – finalizing language in a resolution banning the theory.

Yet district staff have repeatedly told trustees that the theory isn’t being taught in district schools.

Push back on the theory has surfaced over the last couple years, with claims at school boards across the country that it teaches students all white people are oppressors and people of color are victimized. People have also raised concerns that teachers are indoctrinating students with their own political views.

Trustee Leandra Blades, a proponent of the ban, said the resolution is not about limiting history lessons – a major concern among many parents and students – but to stop teachers from saying all white people are racist, which she says is Critical Race Theory.

“I think that we have repeatedly said every single session, we’re not removing topics, we’re not removing subjects, nothing will be removed. It’s just that we will not apply Critical Race Theory and play a race blame game,” she said at the study session.

At the same time, ethnic studies and law professors have said the notion that theory casts all white people as racist is a deliberate and gross misrepresentation of what it is and that the national debate on theory is riddled with misinformation and confusion.

Instead, academics who teach it say its a theoretical framework that examines how racism shapes institutions, laws and social structures and is taught at the graduate level, primarily in law school, not K-12 schools.

Nearly every time trustees have discussed Critical Race Theory, they’ve struggled to agree on a definition of the theory. 

Trustees are expected to vote on the ban April 5.

The proposed ban is also raising questions about what role, if any, does censorship play in a democracy and what impacts do such academic bans have on a free society.

Public speakers at the study session said the proposed ban is similar to censorship an authoritarian regime would implement – a comparison regularly used by parents who criticized the now-defunct mask mandate and an expected vaccine mandate .

“If you pass this ban and allow this level of censorship of the truth, that will take us closer to fascism than any public health mandate ever will,” Sonia Dhaliwal, a parent, said at the meeting, adding that a majority of the students in the district are “ethnic minorities.”

Out of the 25,057 students enrolled in the district in the 2020-21 school years, about 69% of students were people of color, according to Ed Data, which partners with the California Department of Education.

The proposal has drawn opposition from not only parents, teachers and students in the district, but also by groups like the American Historical Association and PEN America, a literary and rights advocacy group.

[Read: Placentia-Yorba Linda School District Trustees to Ban Critical Race Theory; Criticism Soars]

But there has also been support for the ban from some district parents.

The theory itself has already been banned from schools in several states, according to EdWeek.

Trustees Talk About Race & Racism

During the study session, there was a debate among the all-white board of trustees on systemic racism and whether it was present in the U.S.

“So are you saying that systemic racism doesn’t exist?” Trustee Carrie Buck asked at one point in the meeting.

“In the United States? No,” said Trustee Marilyn Anderson in response.

Blades then asked Buck if she thought systemic racism exists.

“I think there are systems that have racial inequalities built into them in the United States. Yes,” Buck said.

“So you believe in Critical Race Theory,” Blades responded.

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, which was used to examine social structures and government institutions.

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

Some parents say the theory is anti-American, Marxist and teaches students that all white people are oppressors and all people of color are oppressed.

Academics familiar with the theory say the concerns about the course have been used to silence overall discussions about racism. 

Blades said because there are so many opinions about systemic racism, it shouldn’t be taught and classes should stick to historical facts.

Buck said there are facts that show a history of systemic racism in the U.S.

“Redlining is a fact. Segregation in schools is a fact,” she responded.

Blades said the resolution is not about banning the teaching of those subjects, but rather to stop placing blame on certain students.

“Nobody’s saying don’t teach history. They’re saying just don’t pit the races and say that one race is racist and they’re responsible, since America has been here, for all of the problems that everybody’s having,” she said at the meeting.

One of the points in the proposed definition for Critical Race Theory that was scrapped described it as any teaching or framework that says one race is inherently racist and responsible for the oppression of another race.

Trustee Shawn Youngblood wanted to clarify that point to specifically say the white race, which he said Critical Race Theory is targeting.

“Has there been any other race that is being subjected to racism other than the white race?” he questioned.

He also went on to say every race has been at a time a slave at one time.

“Which race has not been a slave?” he asked when faced with pushback from Buck.

Buck responded, “If we look at the United States – white people.”

Blades responded by saying the Irish were indentured servants.

Buck shot back and said there’s a difference.

Critical Race Theory Ban Will Go for Final Vote

Trustees on Wednesday settled on a definition for what they consider Critical Race Theory, which will be incorporated in the resolution banning the course.

Trustees debated the language of the resolution for two hours at Wednesday’s meeting – much of which focused on how they want to define the theory.

[Read: Placentia-Yorba Linda School District Moves to Ban Critical Race Theory]

They ended up scrapping an initial definition and decided to use the definition of Critical Race Theory provided in the State’s ethnic studies model curriculum after Anderson suggested it be included.

“Critical race theory (CRT) is a practice of interrogating race and racism in society. CRT recognizes that race is not biologically real but is socially constructed and socially significant. 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,” reads the definition included in the model curriculum.

Todd Robbins, an attorney for the district and a former history teacher, said that’s the definition of the theory he was more familiar with from his time in law school.

“This definition doesn’t mention anything about individuals. It mentions institutions, systems codified in law embedded in structures woven into public policy, so big things. Whereas the definition by the board focuses on individuals,” Robbins said.

Initially, trustees defined Critical Race Theory as any framework or theory that teaches the U.S. is fundamentally or systematically racist.

The initial definition also said, “Our race is inherently or intentionally racist and/or responsible for the stereotyping, scapegoating, and/or oppression of another race, whether consciously or unconsciously.” 

Blades told the OC Register that the words “our race’ was a typo in the initial definition.

To read more on the initial definition click here.

Robbins also asked the board what would happen if a teacher violates the resolution.

Trustees Youngblood and Anderson said Human Resources and Administration will handle it.

But Robbins argued it was still an important question for the board to consider.

“Laws that are vague have been found by the United States Supreme Court to be unconstitutional on 14th Amendment due process grounds,” Robbins said.

The CRT Debate in the Placentia-Yorba Linda School District

People against the ban are worried about the impact it will have on Advanced Placement (AP) courses offered at Placentia-Yorba Linda schools.

They raised concerns it would stifle conversations on racism and silence student voices in a district that’s made up predominantly of students of color.

Blades said the ban has no intention of removing AP courses or removing topics from classes, but to stop race blaming.

College Board – the group that sets the required teaching topics for these courses – has warned if a school bans one of their topics taught in the Advanced Placement (AP) courses they offer, that course will no longer be considered (AP).

“AP courses foster an open-minded approach to the histories and cultures of different peoples. The study of different nationalities, cultures, religions, races, and ethnicities is essential within a variety of academic disciplines. AP courses ground such studies in primary sources so that students can evaluate experiences and evidence for themselves,” reads their website.

There’s also a petition opposing the ban circulating throughout the district.

Most of the people who spoke during public comment at Wednesday’s meeting were against the ban.

“How can students who aren’t taught about racism properly face a world that is filled with it?” Fiona Salisbury, a junior at Yorba Linda High School, asked trustees at the meeting. 

“Even if we wish many parts of history were not true, we can’t change the fact that events such as slavery, the holocaust, and many more happened because of racism.”

But not everybody in the district is against the ban.

There are other parents and students who want trustees to bar the theory from the classroom and have been routinely showing up to meetings in support of the ban.

“We need to make it very clear that CRT teaches hate and it’s divisive, and it doesn’t belong in K-12 (schools),” said Shari Palicke, a parent, at the meeting.

Ben Stubbs, a parent in the district, criticized ethnic studies, calling the courses he took at Cal State Fullerton racist and said he didn’t want his daughter exposed to that.

“There’s a difference between learning about Rosa Parks and learning about Emmett Till. I don’t think high schoolers should be learning about Emmett Till what happened to him. (They’re) not ready,” he said at the meeting.

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

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