Southwest Missouri high school teacher accused of using critical race theory loses job

·6 min read

A school board in southwest Missouri voted not to renew the contract of a teacher after parents accused her of using critical race theory.

Kim Morrison, an English teacher at Greenfield High School, said the vote in mid-March came shortly after allegations surfaced about a worksheet she used as part of teaching the book "Dear Martin."

This was her second year teaching the award-winning young adult novel about racism in an elective contemporary literature class. It was the first year students were assigned a 15-question worksheet called "How Racially Privileged Are You?"

In late February, Morrison said she was called to the office of high school principal Jennifer Roberts and told there had been complaints from parents.

A worksheet assigned as part of reading the book "Dear Martin" by Nic Stone prompted parent complaints in Greenfield.
A worksheet assigned as part of reading the book "Dear Martin" by Nic Stone prompted parent complaints in Greenfield.

"That first meeting, when she showed me that she had a copy of the handout and she wanted to know the context, she said the people she's hearing from said that this is CRT," Morrison recalled. "I said 'Well, it's not CRT. I don't know what CRT is because I didn't go to law school and we didn't cover it in grad school. This isn't it.

"I said discussing racism is not CRT and she said she understood but that this is what she is hearing."

More: Can a school board fire a teacher over critical race theory complaints? What MO law says

What is critical race theory?

Critical race theory, developed decades ago by legal scholars, argues that race is a social construct and racism has been embedded in policies and legal systems in the U.S.

In recent years, the theory has become a political lightning rod. Critics argue it attacks mainstream institutions ranging from public schools to courtrooms, has roots in Marxism, fuels racism, perpetuates stereotypes, and undermines academic freedom.

In Springfield, and many other schools across the U.S., allegations of critical race theory have prompted protests.
In Springfield, and many other schools across the U.S., allegations of critical race theory have prompted protests.

Opponents have also attempted to label any effort to combat racism or promote equity, diversity and inclusion as CRT.

Morrison said she explained the worksheet — which she purchased from a database of instructional materials — was intended to help students examine their own experiences and vantage point. It was not meant to prompt class discussion.

"It was to prepare students for the conversation that was going to happen between two characters that we were about to read," she said.

Morrison, in her fourth year in Greenfield, was called to the office again in mid-March, a couple of days before a school board meeting.

"(The principal) was still fielding complaints," Morrison said. "That's when I got concerned that my conversation with her two weeks prior hadn't resolved anything."

She asked to meet with Superintendent Chris Kell after school March 16, the day of the board meeting.

"I requested a meeting and he didn't ask me why. When I went in there, he started the conversation and said that we didn't know if I would be rehired or not," she said. "He could not predict."

More: Voters cite critical race theory, book bans, teacher pay in Springfield school board votes

Board votes not to renew teacher's contract after CRT complaints

In closed session, the board voted not to renew Morrison's contract. She followed up by asking for the reason, in writing.

The March 23 letter from the superintendent, obtained by the News-Leader, said he was responding to her request on behalf of the board.

In the letter, Kell confirmed the board's decision not to rehire Morrison for the 2022-23 year. It stated this reason: "Your decision to incorporate the worksheet associated with the novel 'Dear Martin,' due to the content and subject matter."

In a subsequent interview with the News-Leader, Kell said the vote was not unanimous. He said the vote not to rehire Morrison went against his recommendation and that of the high school principal.

"There was administrative support for her return," he said.

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Kell said this was the first time allegations of critical race theory have been leveled in the 400-student district, which is located 40 miles northwest of Springfield in Dade County.

The worksheet "How  Racially Privileged Are You?" was purchased from an online platform for instructional material. It was used by a teacher at Greenfield High School.
The worksheet "How Racially Privileged Are You?" was purchased from an online platform for instructional material. It was used by a teacher at Greenfield High School.

"We have the best interests of our students, our community, our staff. That's why we are here," he said. "We are trying to provide that school district that everybody can be proud of. In a situation like this, it comes down to a school board vote at this point. I don't feel like we teach critical race theory in our district."

Asked if the board is likely to reconsider the decision, Kell said no.

"I would think at this point it is a done deal. It was a board vote," he said. "They are the ones that do the hiring, the non-renewals. It was their vote."

Kell also confirmed school board member Darren Morrison, who is Kim's husband, had resigned shortly after the vote. He recused himself from the vote and stepped out of the room during the discussion.

Morrison, who had been up for tenure this year, was officially notified about the vote by her principal the next morning.

"I'm deeply saddened," she said.

She said the school board did not directly ask her about the worksheet or allegations of critical race theory.

Morrison, who returned to teaching four years ago after raising a family, said she opted to speak up out of concern for other teachers, in her district and others. She said despite not being rehired, she received good job evaluations.

"I have to be the spokesperson now because most of the teachers at Greenfield are not tenured so they can't speak," she said. "If this is how they terminate teachers — without asking questions, without speaking to the teacher — then no one is secure."

She added: "And if they are opposed to broadening, to examining, their viewpoints, they are not doing students any good."

Morrison said teachers are worried about what they will or will not be allowed to teach in the next school year. "There is a pall over our faculty right now because the board is making uninformed decisions."

She said prior to teaching "Dear Martin" as part of the contemporary literature class the first time in spring 2021, she sought administrative approval, and no issues were raised last year.

More: Monett High School removes social justice book 'Dear Martin' after parent complaints

Racism is one theme of the book. She said another theme is "why people believe what they believe about people that aren't like them."

The News-Leader asked Morrison, if she could go back, if she would use the same material.

"Yes, I would still teach the book," she said. "Before the school board meeting, I told my principal I wouldn't use the worksheet if it was going to cost me my job."

Morrison said she received no complaints about the book this year or last. But, after the worksheet, a student was upset about taking a "racial privilege quiz" and commented it was "trying to make me feel guilty for being white."

The News-Leader left a message seeking comment with Renee Meents, president of the Greenfield school board.

Board member Kim Kinder was asked about the decision. She said: "We can't talk about personnel issues as a school board member."

In addition to trying to find a new job, Morrison said she is focused on making a strong finish in all of her classes this spring.

"We're only in the beginning of the fourth quarter," she said. "I am not cheating these kids."

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Claudette Riley is the education reporter for the News-Leader. Email news tips to criley@news-leader.com.

This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Missouri teacher accused of teaching critical race theory loses job

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