Republican tries to ban ‘critical race theory’ in DC schools

By: - June 22, 2021 9:46 am

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WASHINGTON — A Republican member of the U.S. House wants to restrict how District of Columbia public school teachers talk about racism and sexism, drafting a bill that’s the latest attack by the GOP against discussions of race and gender in U.S. schools.

The bill introduced last week by Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wisc.), titled the “Ending Critical Race Theory in D.C. Schools Act,” focuses narrowly on D.C. public schools.

It typically would be beyond the scope of Congress to define what teachers in a specific school district can or cannot do, but federal lawmakers have unique oversight of D.C.’s local laws — a main reason why D.C. advocates are seeking statehood. Grothman sits on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which has jurisdiction over D.C. municipal affairs.

Under the legislation, “no employee of the District of Columbia Public Schools or the District of Columbia Public Charter Schools shall compel a teacher or student to adopt, affirm, adhere to, or profess ideas that promote race or sex stereotyping or scapegoating.”

“Race or sex stereotyping or scapegoating” is broadly defined to include a range of “divisive concepts,” such as the discussion of the United States as a “fundamentally racist or sexist” country; individuals as “inherently” racist or sexist due to their race or sex; or that someone should feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress” because of their race or sex.

The measure — which has four Republican cosponsors, including Rep. Bob Gibbs of Ohio — has virtually no chance of advancing in the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.

But it’s the latest example of a broad wave of outrage in statehouses and Congress over what’s known as “critical race theory,” which has been used as a catch-all term to describe a range of attempts to address and discuss racial inequities.

Grothman’s staffers did not respond to an interview request from States Newsroom about his new legislation.

A news release from his office Friday said the measure would ensure critical race theory “will no longer be present” in D.C. public schools. But the release did not specify any current curriculum or teaching methods within the district that would be prohibited under the bill.

“The CRT curriculum that ‘enlightened’ educators are regurgitating teaches our children hate—to hate each other and hate their country,” Grothman said in the news release. “In other words, students are being taught that they are defined by the color of their skin, not the content of their character. This neo-racist ideology should have no place in our public education system, especially in our nation’s capital.”

District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee said in a statement: “DC residents are already denied voting representation in Congress. They should not be denied the right to teach children an accurate representation of American history. Efforts to minimize and even eliminate discussions on systematic racism in our schools do not align with our values as a school system.”

He added, “DCPS is committed to engaging students, families, and staff in courageous conversations about race and intersectional identities. We strive to make space for students and staff to process how these systems affect their homes, schools, and communities. We have a long way to go, but I am proud to lead a district that is mobilizing to build a more equitable and inclusive space for our students to learn and grow.”

Grothman also has cosponsored several other bills seeking to ban critical race theory.

One measure seeks to block the teaching of critical race theory to federal employees, and another would prohibit the use of federal dollars for any employee training portraying the U.S. as fundamentally racist or individuals as inherently racist or sexist due to their race or sex.

Those who teach about critical race theory say conservative politicians are not correctly describing the approach and the extent to which it is used in schools and workplaces.

The field of critical race theory started as a way to analyze the U.S. legal system. Proponents argue that, because race is a social construct, laws and other social norms are what perpetuate racial inequities.

One of the theory’s central tenets is that U.S. society and government have always promoted racial disparities.

But opponents have forged ahead amid critique of how they’re defining the term. As a result, teachers across the country are grappling with how to respond to, or accommodate, the new policies.

Grothman’s bill isn’t the first time that he’s sought to tamp down discussions of race and racial inequity related to schools.

When the House Education and Labor Committee held a hearing last year on racial disparities that intensified across the U.S. education system amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Grothman, who serves on that panel, stated: “I don’t like to talk about race.”

“It’s a little difficult to be on here because it kind of appears in this committee we’re supposed to look at people racially, and not look at people as people,” Grothman said, according to the Wisconsin Examiner. “So, I’ve got to switch my mindset.”

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Laura Olson
Laura Olson

Laura covers the nation's capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom, a network of nonprofit outlets that includes Michigan Advance. Her areas of coverage include politics and policy, lobbying, elections, and campaign finance.