State education board: CRT not part of academic standards

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As the battle over critical race theory escalates in Kansas and nationally, the Kansas State Board of Education fought back with a statement arguing that the controversial academic model is wrongly confused with educational equity.

“Critical race theory is not a part of Kansas’ academic standards and has never been a part of Kansas’ academic standards. We encourage everyone to review these standards,” the board said in a statement approved unanimously on Wednesday.

“Unfortunately, there are some who are conflating CRT with educational equity. These concepts and practices are not interchangeable,” the statement said.

“Educational equity refers to federal and state policies and requirements for measuring achievement, fairness and opportunity in education.

“Just as we teach our Kansas students to be judicious consumers of information, we encourage all Kansans to educate themselves on what critical race theory is and what it isn’t,” the statement said.

The statement came a day after state Education Commissioner Randy Watson emphatically stated that critical race theory is not part of the education curriculum.

“The standards of which Kansas schools are required to teach have always been developed by Kansas teachers,” Watson said.

“It has never, ever included critical race theory, nor does it today.”

Board Chairman Jim Porter said the board needed to issue a “statement of fact” about Kansas education standards to respond to comments “from people that are running for office that are both inaccurate and irresponsible.”

He didn’t name any specific candidates.

Critical race theory, developed by legal scholars more than 40 years ago, suggests that  racism is more than just an individual bias but is rooted in policies for criminal justice, health care and housing, among other things.

Lawmakers advocating for limits on critical race theory says it’s being taught in a way that fosters divisions among students, although school districts are rebutting the idea that it’s part of their curriculum.

The Olathe school district issued a statement about critical race theory this week, saying it is not part of the district’s education standards.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to equity, inclusion, and continuous improvement so that all students feel valued and are prepared for their future,” the district said in its statement.

“We serve more than 30,000 students with diverse thoughts, beliefs, perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds. Our job is to prepare all of them to achieve personal success,” the district said.

The board joined the debate over critical race theory at a time when political candidates are running on the issue.

The two leading Republican candidates for governor – Attorney General Derek Schmidt and former Gov. Jeff Colyer – have signed a national pledge vowing to fight critical race theory.

The pledge, being promoted nationally by a group with ties to Newt Gingrich, promises calls for prohibiting “any curriculum that pits students against one another on the basis of race or sex.”

Three conservative lawmakers — Sens. Caryn Tyson and Kellie Warren and Rep. Patrick Penn — say they are planning to introduce legislation to keep it out of the classroom.

Meanwhile last week, the issue subtly surfaced at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules and Regulations.

Addressing a staffer from the state Education Department who was testifying, Tyson asked why the agency wasn’t speaking out about how history is taught in the classroom.

“I was very hopeful that the school board would step up and help schools navigate these issues and items that are being taught in our schools that are philosophical or inaccurate history in our nation,” Tyson said.

“And you guys chose to remain silent on it,” she said without using the explicit term “critical race theory.” “My question is why do you even exist.”

“To me, when they know that inaccurate information is being taught in our schools and taxpayers are paying for it and they’re not willing to step up and shut that down, that is a major issue for the state of Kansas.”

Scott Gordon, the general counsel for the Education Department, said that was a conversation that needed to be held with the elected Board of Education.

Warren echoed the same concerns.

“I am hearing some of the same concerns from constituents that Sen. Tyson is referring to,” she said.

Democratic state Rep. John Carmichael of Wichita disagreed.

“Not all members of the Legislature are in agreement on these matters,” he said.

“If you want to talk about critical race theory, for example, I’m free all afternoon to talk about it,” he said.

“I’m pretty well pleased with what the State Board of Education is doing, and I do not join in the comments of my colleagues who are critical of their work.”

Republican state Rep. Barbara Wasinger, chair of the committee, told Gordon she thought all state education department employees should watch over students.

“I think all of you, whether you are touching students are not, are sentries,” she said. “If you’re not doing your job, we have a problem with that.

“We need some people watching out for our children and I don’t think it’s being done properly right now,” she said.