Critical Race Theory fears, debate reach Charlotte-Mecklenburg School board

More than 80 people signed up to speak at this week’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools board meeting — most with Critical Race Theory on their minds.

The school board on Tuesday did not vote or debate any curriculum changes in schools. Some Republican lawmakers are suggesting a law in North Carolina that would ban Critical Race Theory from classroom teaching.

There’s been no proposal from CMS decision makers that the district teach children CRT — which has historically been discussed almost exclusively in some law school programs, and even many proponents of CRT say their aim is not to see it widely adopted in K-12 classrooms.

What CMS officials are doing, however, is training teachers and other staff to identify and uproot education policies and systems that contribute to racial inequities. While that goal is not new, there has been increased attention on CRT in local schools recently due to the district’s hosting of Ibram X. Kendi, author of “How To Be An Anti-Racist,” as the keynote speaker at a summer leadership conference.

“Our schools do not teach and do not promote a doctrine of critical race theory,” Superintendent Earnest Winston said. “Our district does, however, actively support learning and professional development for our staff to be able to recognize the shortcomings of systems that have long contributed to inequities that have led to disproportionate outcomes for students of various backgrounds.”

As EducationWeek reported in May, in an article explaining how Critical Race Theory has emerged as a hot-button political and educational topic, CRT’s underlying premise is that “racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies ... A good example is when, in the 1930s, government officials literally drew lines around areas deemed poor financial risks, often explicitly due to the racial composition of inhabitants. Banks subsequently refused to offer mortgages to Black people in those areas.” That practice was known as redlining.

While some CMS parents and teachers have previously spoken out on the topic — some in support of anti-racism education, others against — Tuesday night was the most concentrated amount of time the school board has spent publicly with CRT.

And it was the first time in over a year, due to COVID-19, that the public could attend to speak before the board.

At 6 p.m. when the meeting was set to begin, almost every seat in the auditorium was filled — even the two side balconies peering over the crowd below. The majority of these spectators were not here to listen to board members, however. Instead, they came so that board members would listen to them.

Critical Race Theory debated, not implemented

CMS parent Abbie Doughtrey said she opposes the implementation of critical race theory in the classroom. Instead, she suggests that language arts, math, science and history be the main curriculum offered in public schools.

“Yeah… history!” a young woman shouted in protest to Doughtrey’s comment.

In recent months, some conservative activists and politicians have mobilized alongside fears that schools are, for example, teaching all white children they are born oppressors. In response, supporters of anti-racism education say classroom study of history should examine how the nation’s earliest political and legal systems worked to marginalize Black Americans — and in many ways still perpetuate inequities.

During Kendi’s talk with CMS leaders in June, he said district leaders should listen to the concerns of parents and community members and work to explain what curriculum includes and dispel myths.

“You have people who are saying that we should not teach our white kids that they are inherently oppressors,” Kendi said, followed by: “I agree ... That’s not what we’re trying to teach.”

Dougherty was one of many members of the organization Moms for Liberty in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting. Moms for Liberty is a national organization with over 30 chapters across the country and is composed of parents who claim to “stand up for parental rights at all levels of government.”

“My rights are being stripped right now,” she said Tuesday night. “I am not co-parenting with the U.S. Government.”

Another parent responded: “The new social studies standards do not actually involve CRT.

“But even any mention of race, diversity or inclusion is being branded as such,” said parent Kendra Dixon.

As one woman spoke about a social justice assignment her son had— an activity that called him to examine his white, male privilege — a man in American-flag patterned shorts walked behind her, flashing a sign that read “Defund the Media” at one of the many news cameras pointed at the podium.

Other than Winston’s brief comments at the end of the meeting, board members did not directly respond to speakers on either side of the issue Tuesday. Typically the time set aside for speakers during a public hearing includes a two-minute limit and board members do not answer questions directly or debate with speakers.

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“Discomfort should accompany history,” said Jessica Dreher, a teacher at Hornet’s Nest Elementary.

Derrick Moore, a teacher of 23 years West Mecklenburg High School, approached the podium and remarked that not teaching about America’s racist history because it elicits feelings of discomfort is comparable to not teaching about the Holocaust because it makes Germans feel bad.

“I believe it is important that we begin to teach the truth in the educational system,” said Corine Mack, president of Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP. “The rich, beautiful truth about Black people in this country ... as well as the harm done to us.”

Board member Sean Strain said: “There was a theme from both sides of this discussion: History must be taught as age-appropriate, unvarnished truth. It must not be reflected upon the students or staff today based upon the color of their skin, so as to infer — let alone state — that they are either oppressed victims or privileged racists on that basis.”

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