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Paso school board debates critical race theory 

A recent discussion regarding a potential ban on the teaching of "critical race theory" in Paso Robles schools ended on a cliffhanger after board of education members failed to come to a consensus on whether they should look into the issue or how to define critical race theory.

After dozens of public comments at a meeting on June 22 regarding critical race theory and the possibility of its presence—or lack thereof—in Paso's schools, the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District board of education decided to discuss the issue again at an unspecified later date. Maybe.

"We'll keep you informed," Board President Chris Arend told the audience at the end of the lengthy meeting, which ran until about 11 p.m.

click to enlarge GETTING CRITICAL The Paso Robles Joint Unified School District recently discussed critical race theory and whether the concept should be taught in local schools. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • GETTING CRITICAL The Paso Robles Joint Unified School District recently discussed critical race theory and whether the concept should be taught in local schools.

Critical race theory is a decades old academic concept that emerged out of efforts in the '70s to understand how legal policies and systems in the U.S. differently impact people of differing ethnicities, according to EducationWeek, an online resource for K-12 educators. Critical race theorists argue that racism is not just the product of prejudice between individuals, but that it's pervasive in our society and deeply embedded in the culture and institutions, and that people who exist in such a society often unknowingly pick up racial biases.

In recent months, some states, including Idaho, Oklahoma, and Texas, have passed legislation banning critical race theory in schools, according to NBC News.

At Paso's June 22 meeting, Superintendent Curt Dubost said that while critical race theory is not a part of the district's formal curriculum, administrators wanted to discuss the topic after they were flooded with parent inquiries about the district's stance on critical race theory.

Board President Arend drafted a resolution that would, if passed, ban the teaching of critical race theory in Paso's schools, calling it a "divisive ideology that assigns moral fault to individuals solely on the basis of an individual's race and, therefore, is itself a racist ideology."

Although several community members said at the meeting that such a prohibition would be unnecessary and authoritarian and could prevent kids from learning about America's dark history of racism, Arend told New Times that "whitewashing" history is not his intent.

He pointed to the last paragraph of the proposed resolution.

"Notwithstanding the above restrictions, social science courses can include instruction about critical race theory," it reads, "provided that such instruction plays only a subordinate role in the overall course and provided further that such instruction focuses on the flaws in critical race theory."

"There's a difference between teaching critical race theory and teaching about critical race theory," Arend said. "I think our students should know what the subject is, what critical race theory is, they should know what its main doctrines are, but I don't think that critical race theory should be the basis of a class, for instance."

Some parents who spoke at the June 22 meeting agreed, calling critical race theory "Marxism" and saying that it would unnecessarily pit children of different ethnicities against each other. Several Paso parents described the concept itself as racist, saying it teaches white children to feel ashamed of their skin color and heritage, and that it gives children of color a victim mentality.

"Anyone that supports this, in my opinion, you are a predator going after the innocence of my children," parent Heidi Holliday said at the meeting. "The past year and a half has damaged all of us in ways that we aren't fully even aware of yet. This does not help, in fact it will deepen the chasm."

But several other attendees shared their personal experiences with systemic racism in Paso Robles, and said the sudden hysteria over critical race theory is based on a misunderstanding of the term and its relation to other terms like systemic racism and white privilege.

Courtney Haile, the executive director of R.A.C.E. Matters SLO County, suggested that critical race theory is only now becoming controversial as part of a campaign to rev up identity politics before the next election. Still, she argued, systemic racism is real.

"Race is socially constructed, and I acknowledge that it was indeed made up, just as whiteness is a construction and also made up," she said. "It was made up to keep people of color, especially Black people, on the bottom. And the oppressive policies that have stemmed from this construction continue to have material impacts on people of color."

During further discussion among board members over whether to schedule another meeting on the topic, Deputy Superintendent Jen Gaviola suddenly jumped in, saying she was "embarrassed" for the community. As a person from a mixed-race family, Gaviola said she had no interest in drafting ordinances regarding critical race theory and that the board should trust its teachers.

"I just can't believe this is what our focus is," she said to some mild applause from the audience. "Our kids have been out of school for a year, and this is our focus now? We should be coming together as a community, and the board made great strides to do that the last three meetings. And now we're back at this."

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