The Mead School Board will hear proposals during its Monday night meeting to ban critical race theory from the district and ban materials on gender studies from the elementary libraries.
The proposals have been met with strong condemnation from advocates who see the bans as counterproductive.
“The minute you say, ‘Let’s not talk about critical race theory and let’s keep it out of schools,’ that’s when they start studying it,” Spokane NAACP President Kiantha Duncan said in a Facebook Live statement on Sunday. “The very thing we try to keep away from kids, that’s the thing they go after and they find it for themselves.”
The ban on critical race theory is an attempt by the school board to prevent promoters of the theory from teaching what it says is “mandated politicization in the classroom” in its civics education, according to the draft policy proposal itself.
Nationwide and in the Inland Northwest, politically conservative groups have pushed to ban the theory in public schools, though elementary and secondary school leaders say the academic concept is not part of the curriculum. The theory has its origins in the post-civil rights era, and supporters of its teaching say that it highlights systemic racism in all aspects of American society.
While the ban proposes to maintain a neutral perspective on civics, the nature of the policy makes it political, said Amy McColm, who serves as the Spokane NAACP’s education committee chair.
“There’s a perspective from both sides, but this policy is excluding one side. It’s completely hypocritical,” McColm said. “Why are they not confident enough in their education system to teach, instead of ban? That’s the choice – teach or ban – and they’ve chosen ban.”
Critical race theory is defined by the NAACP as “an academic and legal framework that denotes that systemic racism is part of American society – from education and housing to employment and healthcare.”
In a text message conversation, School Board Director Michael Cannon, who drafted the policy on Monday’s agenda, said that critical race theory is not a “boxed set of curriculum, but a set of ideals meant to permeate every other subject.”
“I’m not advocating, and no one else is advocating, that we don’t teach history. To the contrary, I absolutely think we should be teaching complete and accurate history, just not though the lens of modern politics, and critical race theory,” he said. “There is a pretty high level of concern in our community because of what’s happening in other districts around the country and even in our own state.”
The school district’s ban on critical race theory would prevent school district employees from discussing topics covered in the 1619 Project, an initiative from The New York Times contextualizing slavery’s effect on America, or in the books “How to Be an Antiracist” and “Caste.”
The policy also requires a list of ideas that teachers are not allowed to assert, including, among others, that: the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist; an individual, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently racist sexist or oppressive; and that meritocracy or traits such as a hard-work ethic are racist or sexist, or were created by a particular race to oppress another race.
Under the new proposal (pages 111-114), there would be a stronger emphasis in civics education on “the fundamental moral, political, and intellectual foundations of the American experiment in self-government and Washington’s role in that noble experiment.”
According to Cannon, the proposal is not a complete ban on ideas that critically examine racism in the United States. As written, the proposal allows classroom instruction of some of these topics in “age-appropriate discussion settings” and without “giving deference to any one perspective.”
The new policy proposal also requires that Mead students understand “the history of white supremacy, including the institution of slavery, the eugenics movement, and the origins of the Ku Klux Klan, and the ways in which these systems of belief sowed division, caused tremendous and lasting harm, and how they have been combatted through peaceful protest, civic engagement, and the American courts.”
Cannon began considering a proposal to ban critical race theory a few years ago, he said. The theory, which has been studied since 1989, became a major political flashpoint in the 2020 presidential election and has remained a hot button topic in local school boards across the U.S.
Critics of critical race theory often contend that it is a political indoctrination of children that portrays the U.S. in an unflattering light. Proponents argue that the study takes an honest look at the history of the country.
Also on the school board’s agenda is a revision to an existing school district policy to ban materials related to gender studies (pages 115-120) from Mead School District’s elementary libraries.
The policy revision, also drafted by Cannon, seeks to ban materials that “include references to gender identity, gender fluidity, the gender spectrum, or gender-neutral ideology in any form.”
The policy revision came after a Spokane County Library book titled “Some People Do” was mistakenly returned to a Mead elementary school. The book includes references to gay, transgender and nonbinary people, and Cannon argues that it is inappropriate for children.
In her statement on Facebook, Duncan also said that preventing children from having conversations about gender and sexuality can alienate them from their communities and from their parents.
“You all have a responsibility not to shield kids from truth,” she said. “Your responsibility is to tell them the truth and provide them with the services that may be necessary after they learn the truth.”
Both proposals are scheduled for a first reading during Monday’s school board meeting at 6 p.m. and will not be voted on. The meeting will be held at Northwood Middle School, 12908 N. Pittsburg St.
Duncan said she would like to meet with Mead School Board members, as well as teachers and the superintendent to move the conversation forward. Cannon said he would agree to meet with Duncan but reiterated the intent of his policy is to teach a “complete and accurate history.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.