State school superintendent: ‘You can’t separate history from history’

Debate on ‘critical race theory,’ school mask mandates continues during state Board of Education meeting

By: - February 9, 2022 1:00 am

28th August 1963: American minister and civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King Jr (1929 – 1968) waves to the crowd of more than 200,000 people gathered on the Mall during the March on Washington after delivering his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, Washington, DC. | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In honor of Black History Month, state Superintendent Michael Rice defended schools’ right to teach comprehensive American history during Tuesday’s state Board of Education meeting as the debate around “critical race theory” continues nationwide.

Critical race theory is a college-level concept that examines how racism is embedded in the legal system and other American institutions. No Michigan K-12 schools teach the concept. 

“You can’t separate history from history because you find it convenient to do so or because some portion of it is uncomfortable,” Rice said. “The U.S. Constitution is arguably the greatest document in the history of the United States. So imagine the irony there when I suggest that this document be taught to our children and some people react as if the suggestion would harm the children.”

Last month, the board approved a resolution on “teaching comprehensive history,” introduced by Democrat Pamela Pugh, which states that “teachers have the right and responsibility to teach the multifaceted and complex history including the history of race, racism and other biases, which are inextricably connected to the constitutional and statutory history in our country.”

Nikki Snyder, a Republican who voted against that resolution, said Tuesday in response to Rice’s statement that “the importance of teaching history is not related to the rejection of critical race theory.”

The other Republican member on the board, Tom McMillin, also rebutted Rice’s statement. 

“It was condescending to suggest that those of us who oppose little white children being told that they’re oppressors in CRT … means that we oppose the Constitution being taught. It’s ridiculous,” said McMillin, who also voted against the resolution last month.

Board members also continued to debate around COVID-19 mitigation efforts in schools.

After a brief COVID-19 update from Rice, Snyder and McMillin responded with misinformation about vaccinations. 

As of Monday, a total of 2,019,119 Michiganders have tested positive for COVID-19 and 30,417 have died from the virus. About 59% of Michiganders have received two doses of the vaccine. For school aged students, Rice said about 47% of students 12-15 years old and 26% of students 5-11 years old have at least one dose of the vaccine.

The state also reported Monday that 99 schools reported new COVID-19 outbreaks and 391 schools are facing ongoing outbreaks.

McMillin said “natural immunity is superior to vaccination.”

Rice said that unvaccinated individuals are at greater risk of contracting the virus and being hospitalized, which is in line with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But Snyder called Rice’s statement “an opinion, not fact.”

Like many of the other monthly Board of Education meetings during the pandemic, the public comment period was lengthy and largely made up of anti-mask and anti-vaccine individuals. 

On Tuesday, the board voted unanimously to expand the public comment period by an hour to meet the demand of callers.


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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue is a former Michigan Advance reporter who covered education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.