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Critical Race Theory and Ky. Schools Discussed Before Lawmakers

This story was compiled with details from the Legislative Research Commission and the Kentucky Department of Education

Rep. Matt Lockett (R-Nicholasville) said he believes his bill, Bill Request 69 “will be one of the most vital pieces of legislation” that will be considered when the General Assembly convenes for its 2022 session in January.

According to Lockett, who is the bill’s primary sponsor, the goal of BR 69 is to ban the teaching and promoting of critical race theory in Kentucky’s public schools. The pre-filed bill was the main topic of discussion during Tuesday’s Interim Joint Committee on Education meeting.

Lockett said critical race theory (CRT) teaches that the political and social system in the U.S. is based on race and labels those who are white as the oppressors and those who are black as the oppressed.

Lockett, along with one of the bill’s co-sponsors, Rep. Jennifer Decker (R-Waddy), said they have both heard from parents and educators across the Commonwealth who say CRT is being taught in schools and that they are against it being part of the school curriculum.

Kentucky Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Jason Glass testified that curricular decisions are left to school based decision making councils.

“The Kentucky Department of Education is not aware of any districts or teachers specifically teaching critical race theory and neither CRT nor terms associated with it appear in our state standards,” Glass said.

Although he is not an expert on critical race theory, Glass did offer a definition of CRT and suggested the committee invite an expert to testify.

“Critical race theory is a decades-old legal and academic theory which seeks to explain why racism continues to exist,” Glass said, adding that CRT is typically taught and discussed in graduate-level courses and is not a developmentally appropriate concept for elementary and middle school-aged students.

In regards to BR 69, Glass said the bill hurts freedom of speech and that these types of laws hurts education and hinders the state’s ability to recruit and retain teachers.

Fayette County social studies teacher Delvin Azofeifa joined Lockett and Decker in testifying in favor of BR 69.

“Any CRT adjacent doctrine doesn’t belong in public schools,” Azofeifa said.

The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) only has the authority to set the Kentucky Academic Standards – which detail what a student should know and be able to do at each grade level – in consultation with teachers, the department said after the meeting. At this time, KDE is not aware of any districts or teachers specifically teaching the theory, nor does it appear in the Kentucky Academic Standards, it said.

Joining Commissioner Glass in providing K-12 perspectives on critical race theory to the committee were Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Marty Pollio and Kelland Garland, principal of Hebron Middle School in Bullitt County.

Creating an inclusive curriculum and working toward equity does not mean lifting any one group of people while putting down another, Pollio said. It is about providing appropriate support to every student.

“We have to give our students the world and let them determine their path,” he said. “… With the support of KDE and the Kentucky Board of Education, I believe we have the opportunity to be a true leader of this work in Jefferson County and the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

Committee members asked if there should be transparency in the development of curriculum, something that Garland says already exists.

All the state’s academic standards are available online, and all school-based decision making council meetings are open to the public.

During discussion, Rep. Tina Bojanowski (D-Louisville) criticized the importance of the bill compared to other issues such as the suicide ideation rate among children and the high child abuse rates in Kentucky. She, along with Rep. Lisa Wilner (D-Louisville) also criticized the bill’s language.

“When I read Bill Request 69, I found it vague,” Wilner said. “…The goal seems to be to want to ban discomfort, but you know, unfortunately, that’s not really something we can legislate.”

Lockett responded by explaining the goal of the bill isn’t to just eliminate the term critical race theory, but to make sure students are not taught they are less than somebody else due to the color of their skin.

As the nearly two-and-a-half hour meeting came to a close, lawmakers hinted this will not be the last time BR 69 or any other critical race theory related legislation will be discussed during the interim.

Any official action lawmakers choose to take on BR 69 cannot begin until the legislative session begins in January 2022.

Photo from the Kentucky Department of Education