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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Mead School Board strikes down proposals that would have banned critical race theory, gender studies

More than 100 people signed up to testify before the Mead School Board on Monday night over proposals to ban critical race theory districtwide and materials concerning gender identity from elementary libraries.   (Quinn Welsch / The Spokesman-Review)

It was another packed house at Northwood Middle School as Mead School Board members considered - but ultimately rejected - two policies that would ban critical race theory from the school district and gender studies materials from elementary libraries.

School staff, community members, and parents gave emotional and sometimes fiery speeches in a public comment period that was much more evenly matched compared to the previous meeting. In August, a large audience overwhelmingly expressed their disproval of both policies.

About 100 people signed up to speak during the meeting, which were cut off around 9:30 p.m. The school board said about 60% of the people were in favor of the bans with 40% opposed on Monday.

After more than three hours of testimony, both proposed policies failed. The one that would have banned CRT failed 2-3, with Michael Cannon, who proposed it, and Brieanne Gray, voting in support. The second proposal, which would have banned materials that reference gender studies or gender identity in elementary libraries, also failed, on a 0-4-1 vote, with Cannon abstaining.

Public commenters who spoke in favor of banning critical race theory and gender studies received loud cheers from audience members who agreed with them. Tensions were high at times throughout the night, as some in the audience shouted over commenters they disagreed with.

One man shouted “who cares?” at a Mead School District staffer who spoke about her experience as an immigrant.

Mead School District staff members also presented, in granular detail, the details of the existing social studies curriculum in the district’s high schools, at its libraries, and the process for re-evaluating curriculum.

Some teachers and staff members who spoke took issue with the nature of the policies, not the specific content that they were banning. As stated, the policy banning critical race theory “provides significant challenges for teachers teaching social studies,” said district teacher Jessica Klingback. Klingback described policies as a “sledgehammer” when a “scalpel” is needed.

Some of those who argued in favor of the bans warned the board members that they would face the consequences in the next election.

“For those of you who vote no, it will be clear whose side you are on,” one parent said. “If you vote no, I sadly promise I will vote no on all bonds and levies until this poison is eradicated.”

Both critical race theory – which is a collegiate-level class that looks at law and society through the lens of race and ethnicity - and gender identity or gender studies – particularly the ideas of transgender and gender fluidity – have been hot button issues over the past couple years. 

At least three people who lived in communist countries took to the podium to voice their strong approval of the bans, directly comparing the ideology behind critical race theory with the authoritarianism in the Soviet Union and China.

Others in favor of the bans wondered why, if the policies were not being taught, the policy couldn’t be enacted to prevent them from being taught in the future.

“Whether it has directly reared its head in Mead or not, it seems justifiable to be alert for these ideas that many, I and my wife, would find harmful for kids of all backgrounds,” one Mead parent said.

Those opposed to the bans often described the policies as ineffective because critical race theory is not taught in the school, but rather would send a message of censorship to teachers and to students.

“Banning books, banning ideas. That’s what fascists do. Fascists ban books. The weak ban books,” said Amy McColm, who serves as the Spokane NAACP’s education committee chair. “When teachers and librarians are empowered to teach, and parents are involved in their education, banning is totally unnecessary and antithetical to what America stands for.”

Others said that teaching diverse viewpoints that might be interpreted as critical race theory was beneficial to their own education.

“I got an excellent education in high school,” said a Mead graduate named Seamus, who did not give his last name. “That is because in large part I was taught humanities holistically. I was taught to think critically and draw my own conclusion on those viewpoints. I read Karl Marx as part of my reading in high school and somehow I am not a communist.”

After the board meeting was adjourned, Cannon told the Spokesman-Review that he was still committed to addressing CRT and gender studies material in the future. Though, that might not necessarily be in the form of a policy proposal, he said.

One of his big takeaways from the public discussion on the policies was the level of concern from parents on both sides of the debate, he said.