JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Republican lawmakers are asking the governor to ban the teaching of critical race theory in Missouri schools.
Earlier this month, a letter drafted by Sen. Mike Moon (R-Ash Grove) and signed by other Republicans asked Gov. Mike Parson to issue an executive order banning the teaching of critical race theory (CRT) and the “1619 Project” in schools before students return in August.
Member of the House and Senate Joint Committee on Education heard testimony Monday in favor of why it should be banned in the state, but Democrats in the meeting were upset because no one spoke in favor of CRT.
“I felt today it was important to hear from people who have tried to go through the official cycle of authority in their districts,” Chairwoman of the committee Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin (R-Shelbina) said.
CRT is a hot-button issue that’s making headlines across the country as other states pass legislation prohibiting curriculum in their public-school systems.
“If we are interested in gathering information and really understand seeing a complete picture of what’s happening, for what purpose and the impact it’s having on students both good and bad, if bad, then, I hope that we as a committee really look at a completely diverse perspective as opposed to handpicking witnesses to testifying,” Sen. Lauren Arthur (D-Kansas City) said.
First up to speak was Dr. Mary Byrne who leads the Missouri Coalition Against Common Core.
“CRT informs a world view about social structures of power through the lens of race,” Byrne told the committee.
Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Chief of Governmental Relations Michael Harris said the department does not issue guidance on CRT because it’s a local control state.
“To the best of my knowledge, the vast majority of our K-12 public schools are not teaching critical race theory,” Harris said.
CRT is known as the academic study of how racism has impacted the U.S. through things like politics to culture. Parents and teachers who were asked to testify Monday agree it needs to be banned from schools.
“CRT manipulates immigrants to identify as outsiders, not as Americans,” Maki Randelman said.
Randelman said she and her family moved from Israel in the last decade. She is originally from Japan but became a U.S. citizen a few years back. She testified on behalf of her children she said, who are taught CRT in public schools in the St. Louis area.
Rachel Aguirre is a teacher in the Lee’s Summit area. She told lawmakers CRT puts students against each other.
“What we see in our school system today is that we are putting black kids against white kids,” Aguirre said. “It’s not even the kids that are doing this, it is the adults that are pitting kids against each other.”
Rep. Nick Schroer (R-O’Fallon) is one of the lawmakers on the committee who wants to prohibit CRT and the “1619 Project” from Missouri schools.
“Our educators in our districts should be teaching our children how to think and not what to think,” Schroer said.
Several who testified along with lawmakers criticized Dr. LaGarrett King, a professor at the University of Missouri. King has worked with many schools across the state as a curriculum consultant. He is an associate professor and director of Carter Center for K-12 Black History Education. O’Laughlin said he was invited to testify at Monday’s hearing but declined.
Other lawmakers, like Rep. Ingrid Burnett (D-Kansas City) wanted to know if the General Assembly passes legislation, how it will affect the education system.
“If we were to completely ban the use of critical race theory as a framework, would that make these concepts hard to teach?” Burnett asked Harris.
“Any sort of legislation that will put some sort of ban or say what you can or can’t teach is going to put teachers in a position where they feel uncomfortable discussing certain things,” Harris said.
During a press conference after the hearing, Assistance House Minority Floor Leader Richard Brown (D-Kansas City) told reporters what was said Monday during the committee was misleading and some of it was “flat out false.”
DESE said it normally does not collect data on the curriculum local school districts teach but is now surveying them to ask if they are using Critical Race Theory and if so, in what grades and how.
The committee plans to hold another hearing in the future but has not yet set a date.