On May 10, Washougal School Board member Jim Cooper watched a livestream of the Camas School Board’s meeting, during which several parents discussed their concerns about critical race theory (CRT), an academic movement that examines social, cultural and legal issues as they relate to race and racism.
The next day, Cooper’s inbox was full of emails from Washougal parents, who parroted many of the talking points — some word-for-word — from the Camas meeting.
Cooper, who considers himself to be a reasonably well-educated and informed person, said he didn’t know too much about CRT, so he spent the next two weeks educating himself about the theory, even participating in a day-long equity conference sponsored by the Washington State School Directors Association.
“I learned that CRT is a distinct academic discipline within the fields of law and social science, but I also learned the words ‘critical race theory’ have taken on many different meanings to different people, rendering these terms less than useful,” Cooper said during the Washougal School Board’s May 25 meeting. “Indeed, the sudden emergence of the (letters) ‘CRT’ on the lips of parents and community members is amazing, something that never could’ve happened before information and misinformation were able to spread virally through social media channels.”
Cooper and several other board members delivered a strong message to those who believe the Washougal School District’s proposed equity, diversity and inclusion policy contains CRT during their May 25 virtual meeting.
“I just want to clarify that the equity, diversity and inclusion policy is not a critical race theory curriculum,” board member Angela Hancock said. “Most of us probably didn’t even hear about CRT until (May 10). Our district is not teaching this. It’s not a curriculum that we’re adopting. It’s not something that’s in our policy. I just want to make it clear that it’s not the same thing, because I know there’s a lot of misinformation about that.”
Board members were scheduled to read and vote to approve the policy during their May 11 meeting, which was adjourned before they had the chance to do so.
Board president Cory Chase said May 25 that the board will make a few edits to the equity policy before bringing it back for a third reading and vote on the new policy.
“I think it’s important for us to have dialogue around this policy, and I think there needs to be some clarity (about the fact that) this is not a curriculum adoption process,” Chase said. “That’s not what we are doing here. We’re talking about a policy that we’re implementing in our district for our community that is going to help us bridge some of these achievement gaps that we see are impacting our students. We know that it’s fact-based because we have the data that shows that we are not there with every student in our district, and we do need to address that.”
CRT is defined by Britannica as “a movement and loosely organized framework of legal analysis based on the premise that race is not a natural, biologically grounded feature of physically distinct subgroups of human beings but a socially constructed (culturally invented) category that is used to oppress and exploit people of color.”
The dictionary states: “critical race theorists hold that the law and legal institutions in the United States are inherently racist insofar as they function to create and maintain social, economic and political inequalities between whites and nonwhites, especially (Black people).”
Board member Donna Sinclair said CRT “was introduced in 1976 as a legal theoretical framework for analysis” but has “kind of seeped into mainstream culture.”
“The information that’s out there about it is inaccurate,” said Sinclair, a Washington State University-Vancouver history professor and self-described social scientist. “It’s not SEL (social and emotional learning). It’s not AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination). It’s not an equity policy. It is a framework — a literal theory you apply to analyzing things. It’s not something we would teach students. It’s a theory, and in social science you use theories to analyze empirical data. That’s not something we’re going to take to schools. To be fair, the theoretical understanding has seeped into common understanding about systems, like systemic racism. But that’s not something that’s being explicitly taught or even used.”
Dozens of local residents have expressed concerns about the proposed policy, which they believe includes CRT. A statement on the recently launched washougalmoms.org website claims Washougal School District Superintendent Mary Templeton and Assistant Superintendent Aaron Hansen “are vocal supporters of critical race theory.”
“(The May 11) board meeting was their second reading of their new policy to implement a curriculum for critical race theory into our district,” Washougal resident Patricia Bellamy said during her appearance on the “Lars Larson Show” on May 25. “I have no doubt that they will whole-heartedly continue to infiltrate this into our school system. Segregation ended in 1954, but here we are in 2021 recreating it with our children. To teach them that they’re either the oppressed or the oppressor, to define and classify them by the color of their skin (instead of their) character, is insane and unacceptable.”
The latest draft of the district’s new equity policy, which is available for viewing on the district’s website, does not include the phrase “critical race theory” or any references to defining or classifying children by the color of their skin.
The policy states that the district will “address the unique challenges and barriers students may face by providing opportunities that lead to equitable outcomes; recognize and support populations of students who have been historically underserved to eliminate gaps in outcomes and achievement; use an equity lens when adopting instructional materials to ensure the curriculum reflects our students’ identities, including their diverse cultural, racial, historical and linguistic characteristics; and provide professional development for district staff members that will cultivate the knowledge, skills and capacity to respond to student needs and backgrounds in culturally responsive and effective ways.”
“I support my child learning in anti-racist schools and anti-racist curriculums,” Washougal resident Wendi Moose said during the May 25 meeting. “I want my child to have critical thinking skills and be able to recognize racism, white supremacy and privilege. Critical race theory is not a curriculum. It is a lens that we use to understand our systems and institutions. It simply recognizes that our systems and institutions were built on racist ideology and mostly benefit one group. I am saddened to hear that there are those that oppose this. They remind me of those that opposed desegregation in the 1960s. Equal rights for others doesn’t mean less rights for them. Our students deserve an equitable and anti-racist education.”
Cooper finished his statement with a powerful rejoinder to anyone who still doubts the district’s intentions.
“To the members of the public who oppose our proposed equity policy, I have the following to say: If you believe that district policy should be to not provide equal opportunities for every child, regardless of family income or structure, language, race, religion, etcetera; or that district policy should be to not welcome, respect and value every child; or if you think that every district teacher and staff member should not be engaged in helping to create such an equitable educational environment, then we’ll have to agree to disagree,” Cooper said.