By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama State Board of Education on Thursday passed a resolution banning critical race theory in public schools, a move that supporters said preserves intellectual freedom and opponents said will stifle how history is taught.
The resolution doesn’t appear to have any enforceable power behind it and State Superintendent Eric Mackey said he believes that no teacher in Alabama will be punished as a result of the resolution.
“We don’t think there is anything in our courses of study – we’ve done a deep dive – that will be in conflict with the current resolution,” Mackey said. “So it really has no effect on our current course of study.”
Critical race theory is an academic concept that arose out of the civil rights era and is a way of examining American society, politics and history through the lens of racism. The theory is not taught in any Alabama K-12 school and is typically seen in graduate-level classrooms or law schools.
The resolution says concepts that would impute fault, blame or a tendency to oppress others because of their race or sex have no place in professional development for teachers or employees in Alabama’s public education system.
The resolution passed along party and racial lines.
Gov. Kay Ivey, who is president of the board, said she supports the resolution because she wants to ensure that quality education is being taught to all students.
“Our teachers and parents, they know how to handle this situation. Everybody wants their child, every child, every student to have a quality education so they can be prepared to succeed in life, be self-sufficient and sufficient in careers,” Ivey said.
Other board members who voted in favor of the resolution were Stephanie Bell, R-Montgomery, Cynthia Sanders McCarty, R- Birmingham, Belinda McCrae, R-Hamilton, Wayne Reynolds, R-Athens, Tracie West, R-Auburn, and Jackie Ziegler, R-Mobile.
After the meeting, Reynolds told Alabama Daily News the resolution is necessary “to take a stand” against the teaching of critical race theory.
“We need to take a stand,” Reynolds said. “The state board is responsible for putting the stake in the ground and saying this is what we believe. I believe in this very strongly.”
The board’s two Democrats, Yvette Richardson, D-Fairfield, and Tonya Chestnut, D-Selma, both black, voted against the resolution. Richardson said she is worried how this will make teachers uncomfortable when teaching about racism in America.
“As it stands now, our teachers have all taught about civil rights, they taught about slavery and it’s never been a problem,” Richardson said. “Therefore, as we go forward I just want to be on record saying that our teachers are to be given the autonomy to utilize their expertise, the autonomy to do what they know what’s right in the best interest of our children.”
The resolution also states that the state board does not support any K-12 public education resources or standards to be used to “indoctrinate students in social or political ideologies that promote one race or sex above another.”
At a brief public hearing before the vote, a majority of speakers were against the resolution, saying that it will hinder the ability to teach a true understanding of race in America.
The University of Alabama’s College of Education Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee sent a letter to higher education officials asking them to resist the state school board’s efforts.
Group members say they worry the resolution will allow for inaccurate teachings of U.S. history and that examining race and racism more thoroughly actually benefits students and creates a more equitable education system.
Sara McDaniels, a professor and chair of the UA committee, said even before the resolution was approved, it had a chilling effect on Alabama educators.
“We now have educators who are second-guessing whether they should use a certain example in class or continue to use their curriculum that they’ve brought into their classroom on a certain topic or district leaders, wondering whether they can still hold trainings that talk about diversity, equity, inclusion, and improving disproportionate disciplinary practices for students,” McDaniels said.
Alabama’s school board is following a national trend where so far 28 other states have sought to restrict education on racism, bias, the contributions of specific racial or ethnic groups to U.S. history, according to Chalkbeat.
Multiple bills have already been pre-filed by Alabama lawmakers looking to prohibit or block the teaching of what they call “divisive topics.” The legislative session starts in January.
Chair of the Alabama House education policy committee Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, said she wants to take a thoughtful approach when examining the pre-filed bills.
“I definitely want to get a bipartisan committee to review [the bills],” Collins told ADN. “I want to make sure that we’re looking at all things from every angle, as I said all along, I want to make sure that we can teach history at the end of the day and that nobody is fearful about teaching history.”
State Sen. Kirk Hatcher, D-Montgomery, said Thursday he was disappointed but not surprised by the resolution vote and that he will work to oppose his Republican colleagues’ bills next year. He called them election year red meat.
“They even have the magic word: Race,” Hatcher said.
He said critical race theory is a way of looking at why “patterns of inequality stubbornly exist.”
“(Anti-CRT efforts are) one of those issues that’s a backlash effort that has the potential to reverse racial reckoning,” he said.
Hatcher is the head of Montgomery County’s Head Start. He said the spike in COVID-19 cases recently, especially among children, led him to delay the start of programs until next month. He said he wished the state board would have spent more time Thursday discussing how to protect children.
Mackey on Thursday said that less than two weeks into most systems’ new school year, hundreds of students had been sent home temporarily under COVID-19 safety protocols.
Hatcher said state leaders need to “stop coming up with solutions to problems that don’t exist.”
“We need to stop legislating our fears and dislikes and prejudices and serve the people in ways that I think is representative of politics being noble …” Hatcher said.
Alabama Daily News reporter Mary Sell contributed to this story.