Citizens speak out over possibility of teaching CRT in USD 383

Kris Long, Print Editor-in-Chief

The atmosphere at the June 2 USD 383 school board meeting was tense. The Robinson Education Center’s meeting room was packed with those looking to make citizen comments — 22 speakers in total — and spectators, some holding signs that said “No to CRT. No to CRTL,” others wearing shirts supporting minority groups. 

The large attendance was a response to a previous approval of critical race theory in Professional Development, and then redaction of that approval due to inappropriate use of funds. The funds intended for Critical Race Theory training in professional development were allocated for at-risk students, and the BoE later learned Professional Development was not an appropriate use of that funding. So far, further attempts to integrate CRT into professional development have not been made but they are expected once funds have become available.

“We’re taking a closer look at [CRT],” superintendent Dr. Marvin Wade said. “We haven’t backed away from the commitment to work with diversity, equity bias…. People [are] talk[ing] about racial but it’s racial it’s ageism, racism, sexism, all kinds of different issues.”

While no actual vote on the issue was at stake during this meeting, a conservative group opposing Critical Race Theory attended the May 19 meeting, which provoked a liberal response and continued conservative criticism on Wednesday. 

Disagreement with teaching CRT came from multiple different angles, but most centered around three arguments: it causes division by teaching and “oppression and oppressor” mentality, it is ineffective at solving inequality and the board cannot afford to spend $61,000 on it. Those who supported it cited a need to understand systematic racism to combat it, as “ignoring a problem will not solve it,” and that addressing systemic racism in schools is especially important due to the substantial impact it can have on student’s futures. 

Comments stayed largely respectful and restrained on Wednesday but the issue was nonetheless clearly divisive. This can be attributed in part to the national political divide over the way history is taught, with liberals wanting systemic racism and the history of marginalization in America taught in schools and conservatives preferring a “color blind” approach.

The politically charged environment meant both sides have accused the other of propaganda and bias in education systems.

“We don’t want to indoctrinate people,” Wade said. “[We] get accused of trying to indoctrinate. I see it as educating and informing. Just because an issue is controversial doesn’t mean we don’t teach it, doesn’t mean we don’t talk about it. We need to have our staff trained in how to have those conversations with students where it’s balanced, where it’s fair, and invites opportunities for people to speak and be able to be heard and respectful to each other… I’m trying to get people to think for themselves, and not be spoonfed what’s right and wrong be it from Fox News or CNN.”

Most proponents of CRT see it as no-partisan and unifying in nature, as well as a factual narrative of America’s history and present in regards to race.

“I don’t think critical race theory is a liberal standpoint or a political standpoint,” said Young Democrats president Sam DeLong, rising senior, who commented at the meeting. “I think it’s a historical and philosophical one. All of it is based on legal and philosophical analysis of historical events and doctrine. So I think the idea that it’s ideological or political it’s definitely something that opponents use in order to, you know, blunt the impact that it would have.”

The meeting as a whole featured more support for critical race theory than opposition, but substantial dissent was still present. Most of the comments came from parents and other members of the public, but four came from students and teachers, all of whom supported CRT. Almost all the comments, 18 out of 22, came from white people representing both sides of the issue. All people of color who spoke supported teaching CRT. 

“I’m tired of people speaking for me and for people of my background,” said Mac Phrommany, a commenter at the meeting who teaches at Manhattan High and is Asian-American. “We have very few teachers of color, but hopefully we have more speaking up and less people talking on behalf of communities that they’re not a part of.”

Future discussion of Critical Race Theory in Professional Development and potentially in curriculum are expected soon, and may have an impact on upcoming local elections which include some school board seats. 

“I’m sure there’s going to be pushback,” Phrommany said. “There’s been pushback against any educator who wants to shake things up or is dissatisfied with the status quo, but I think there’s more opportunity with the kids to decondition certain biases….You’re going to find resistance to anything worth doing.”