Critical race theory is a topic that's making headlines across the U.S., and many people are questioning what it is and whether or not it's being taught in public schools.
Now, VERIFY viewer Sandy wants to know if critical race theory will be added to the school curriculum in Washington state.
Is Washington state mandating critical race theory in all public schools?
- Ally Barrera, Lead Media and Marketing Specialist at Spokane Public Schools
- Stephanie Davidsmeyer, Communications Manager at the Washington State Board of Education
- Katy Payne, Director of Communications at the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI)
- Janel George, Associate Professor of Law at Georgetown University
- Washington State Legislature: Senate Bill 5044
No, Washington state is not mandating critical race theory in all public schools.
WHAT WE FOUND
In August 2020, conservative activist Christopher F. Rufo declared a "one-man war" against critical race theory in the federal government during an interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson after claiming a major nuclear laboratory had forced its white male executives to undergo "white privilege" training.
About a month later, on Sept. 4, 2020, the Trump administration told federal agencies to end diversity trainings on "critical race theory” and “white privilege,” or “any other training or propaganda effort that teaches or suggests that the United States is an inherently racist or evil country.” Weeks later, in an executive order, former President Donald Trump expanded the ban to include federal contractors.
Although President Joe Biden revoked Trump’s executive order when he took office in Jan. 2021, according to Education Week, as of July 12, 26 states have introduced bills that would restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism in the classroom, and 10 states have already enacted these bans.
In an article on the American Bar Association’s website, Georgetown University law professor Janel George wrote that critical race theory, or CRT, “is not a diversity and inclusion ‘training’ but a practice of interrogating the role of race and racism in society that emerged in the legal academy and spread to other fields of scholarship.”
“Critical race theory is actually a legal theory developed in the academy, meaning in law schools, in the late 1970s. Its founders include Kimberlé Crenshaw, Richard Delgado, Jean Stefancic, as well as Derrick Bell, who had actually been a civil rights litigator for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund,” George told VERIFY in July. “The originators focused on why is racial inequality continuing to endure in a post civil rights era. And so, what they recognized is that racism, unfortunately, is a normal feature of American life and that it's not individual bad actors but systems and institutions that can do the bulk of replicating racial inequality.”
George, who taught a course on racial inequality in K-12 public education to graduate level students through a critical race theory lens at Georgetown, says she believes teaching grade school aged children critical race theory would be “next to impossible.”
“Again, critical race theory is a legal theory. It doesn't mean that some of the tenants or some of the approaches could not be adopted, if you will, but to conflate critical race theory with diversity trainings or anything related to race is really distorting its meaning,” said George.
Katy Payne, the director of communications at the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), told VERIFY there are no current or upcoming requirements for schools in the state to teach critical race theory. She also says discussions about race and racism in the classroom are being mischaracterized as critical race theory.
“It seems that diversity, equity, and inclusion are being misconstrued as critical race theory, when in fact, critical race theory is not mentioned in any K-12 education law, rule, or learning standard in Washington,” said Payne. “OSPI's mission statement states, ‘The goal of Washington's K-12 education system is to prepare every student for postsecondary pathways, careers, and civic engagement.’ Part of civic engagement is understanding our common history as well as providing opportunities for students to think critically about community issues, which may include issues of race and racism.”
Stephanie Davidsmeyer, the communications manager of the Washington State Board of Education, says while the Board’s authority on the topic is limited to establishing graduation requirements throughout the state, the Board is “not developing a curriculum based on critical race theory” either.
“As we state in our recently updated equity statement, the State Board is committed to academic attainment for every student. This will require access and opportunity gaps to be eliminated in order to narrow academic achievement gaps in student outcomes by race, ethnicity, gender identity, caste, and socioeconomics,” said Davidsmeyer.
Ally Barrera, a spokesperson for Spokane Public Schools — the second largest school district in the state — also told VERIFY that critical race theory is not part of its curriculum.
On May 5, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5044 into law. According to Payne, the bill is focused on professional development for educators and other school district staff.
“The new law provides local school districts with the opportunity to determine how they will meet the requirement to use one of their state-funded professional learning days to train district staff in one or more of the following topics: cultural competency, diversity, equity, or inclusion,” said Payne. “Critical race theory is not named in Senate Bill 5044, nor is any specific curriculum.”
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