Kansas Board of Education debates Critical Race Theory

Capitol Bureau

FILE – In this Sept. 3, 2020, file photo, students keep social distance as they walk to their classroom in Highwood, Ill., part of the North Shore school district. In response to a push for culturally responsive teaching that gained steam following last year’s police killing of George Floyd, Republican lawmakers and governors have championed legislation to limit the teaching of material that explores how race and racism influence American politics, culture and law. The measures have become law in Tennessee, Idaho and Oklahoma and bills have been introduced in over a dozen other states. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — The Kansas Board of Education responded Wednesday to claims made about Critical Race Theory, also known as CRT, in the state.

The Board released a letter, calling on Kansans to educate themselves about distinctions between the theory and what is currently taught in Kansas schools.

The subject of Critical Race Theory is currently dominating media headlines and daily conversations for many. 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 (CRT) is and what it isn’t.

KANSAS STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION ON CRT

The letter was released in response to concerns expressed to the board over the theory being taught in Kansas schools.

While education officials said no schools in Kansas teach Critical Race Theory, a letter that board member Deena Horst received from the Riley County Republicans noted that there were concerns over similar teachings of “systemic racism” and “bias” being taught in a Manhattan school district.

“Our standards do not include Critical Race Theory. They never have. I doubt they ever will,” Horst said.

In Kansas, the curriculum is enforced by local school districts. The state board sets education standards but does not have the power to make recommendations regarding curriculum changes.

Chair Jim Porter said it was important for the Board to make a statement as the theory makes headlines in the public education sphere.

“The statement that my colleague made that not making a statement, was in fact making a statement, was pretty loud. That’s when I decided we needed to do something,” Porter said.

The Board’s letter explained that critical race theory is an advanced and complex concept with roots extending to the 1970s and the examination of how laws and systems promote inequality. They said CRT is not new, and that it has existed with little “fanfare” for more than 40 years.

“Unfortunately, there are some who are conflating CRT with educational equity. These concepts and practices are not interchangeable. Educational equity refers to federal and state policies and requirements for measuring achievement, fairness and opportunity in education.”

KANSAS STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION ON CRT

In a meeting following the release of the letter, board members discussed the recent attention the theory has received.

During the meeting, board member Ann Mah noted that there may be a political motive behind bringing the controversial theory to the spotlight, calling the push a “fake cultural war” being used to drum up supporters for elections.

Another board member, Betty Arnold, said the board is elected to represent everyone. She called the controversy drummed up around the topic a “bomb ready to explode.”

Arnold told Kansas Capitol Bureau she personally does not have an opinion on the theory, since it is not “perfectly defined.” She said concerns over school curriculum, like introducing more Black History education, need to be addressed at the local level.

“We really need to take a look at the process that’s involved,” she said. “We have a good process, we just need to follow it.”

To read the Kansas State Board of Education’s full response, click here.

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