Lawmaker wants to ban critical race theory in Missouri schools

Missouri

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A Missouri lawmaker wants to ban critical race theory from school districts through the state.

It’s a topic making headlines across the country, and on the first day that legislators in Missouri could file legislation, one representative is calling for an end to teaching critical race theory (CRT) in schools. CRT is known as the academic study of how racism has impacted the U.S. through things like politics to culture.

“What this bill does is it sets out the criteria related to critical race theory and then it bans that criteria,” said Rep. David Gregory (R-St. Louis). “There are so many parents who have come to me very upset, very concerned that their kids are being taught that they are the oppressor simply because of the color of their skin or the way they were born.”

CRT became a heated topic at the end of the 2021 legislative session, but nothing ever made it across the finish line. Gregory, who is running for state treasurer, expects lawmakers to pick up where they left off.

“It’s not just one type of book or one type of curriculum, it’s any criteria related to the teaching of critical race theory and its theory,” Gregory said. “Last year it was a hot topic, this year, I would say, it’s the number one topic I know in Missouri and what I’m hearing across the country.”

Over the summer, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) gave 500 plus school districts a survey about CRT. Kansas City Public Schools is the only district that said it taught criteria that fell under CRT.

The first question read: Does your LEA’s board-approved curriculum include lessons about CRT?

The only school to answer yes was Kansas City Public Schools, explaining their answer by saying: “We offer an African Centered College prep magnet school that services both elementary and secondary students. The board also approved the 1619 Project service-learning and community activism grant to be taught during summer school. The curriculum is fully aligned with the Missouri Learning Standards.”

Five schools left the answer blank and 419 districts said no.

The second question read: Does your LEA’s board-approved curriculum include The New York Times 1619 Project?

Three schools answered yes: Hazelwood School District, Kansas City Public Schools, and the School District of University City.

Hazelwood outlined how the 1619 project is taught in the following grade levels:

  • 4th Grade Social Studies – The 1619 Project is listed as one of the teacher resources about the arrival of enslaved Africans in Jamestown.
  • 8th Grade Social Studies – Students are given a reading of two paragraphs from the 1619 Project describing the arrival of enslaved Africans in Jamestown.
  • 9th Grade US History – The 1619 Project is mentioned in a suggested learning activity where President Trump discusses the 1619 Project and the 1776 project.

University City explained its answer by saying: “Our board did not approve the 1619 Project. One of our teachers used the resource during one unit of study with students.”

DESE has previously said it does not issue guidance on CRT because it’s a local control state.

Texas, Tennessee, Iowa, Idaho, and Oklahoma have previously passed similar legislation prohibiting CRT in schools.

Andrew Wells is a father of three daughters who attend school in the Houston Public School District in southwest Missouri.

“Our schools are failing our kids right now, Missouri schools are,” Wells said. “Skin color is being interjected back into it and that’s all that matters. We can absolutely teach true American history without teaching something that divides, separates, and alienates people.”

He said he doesn’t believe there is any class in the state teaching CRT specifically but believes it’s being used in some subjects.

“That’s how it’s getting into the school systems,” Wells said. “It’s getting in through curriculum, it’s getting in through lesson plans, through textbooks.”

Across the aisle, Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, wants to protect parents’ rights to be involved in their child’s education.

Making sure when a parent has an issue or a parent wants to know what’s being taught in their schools that they have the right to be able to find out what it is and follow along,” Rizzo said.

He said he filed the legislation due to recent threats to school board members.

“I think the school and the school districts have done a good job trying but I think there are some parents out there that are looking for more,” Rizzo said. “The rancor that we’ve seen is unacceptable and I think a lot of that rancor comes from people not being as informed as they want to be.”

Rep. Nick Schroer filed a similar bill, but it also includes preventing the teaching of CRT and the 1619 project.

Rizzo’s legislation also includes information about vaccines, not only information on exemptions for students but what happens if a child is not vaccinated.

“A parent chooses not to do that, for some reason, then they should know the risk that they are putting their child in,” Rizzo said.

Under the bill, each school would be required to develop a policy that would guarantee parents the right to view the curriculum their child is being taught, information on all extracurricular activities at school, receiving information regarding criminal penalties for musing funds awarded through the Missouri Empowerment Scholarships Account (ESA), vaccines and individual educational plans.

Under the bill, DESE would be required to develop a portal to track and create easy access for parents to view curriculum, professional development training for teachers, and a list of speakers within each school and the cost.

“People are being intentionally misinformed,” Rizzo said. “I would hope they [parents] would take it up with their local school board if they have problems with whatever.”

Attorney General Eric Schmitt said earlier this week he wants lawmakers to pass a similar Parents’ Bill of Rights, but he wants oversight. Rizzo’s versions allow the local prosecutor to enforce the rights, that way he or she can file a lawsuit against schools not cooperating.

Lawmakers return to the Capitol on Jan. 5 for the session.

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