Ray Carter, Center for Independent Journalism
Under regulations approved by the Oklahoma State Board of Education, school districts could lose accreditation and teachers could lose their licenses if they violate a new state law that bans the teaching of concepts associated with Marxist-derived Critical Race Theory (CRT).
The board’s action came Monday (July 12) after members of the public — including teachers, racial minorities, and parents — urged adoption of the rules.
“As educators, we hold the monumental responsibility of stewarding the brightest minds, greatest innovators, and the analytical thinker,” said Leah Hull, a Tulsa resident who worked as a teacher until 2018 and who is a “direct descendent of slaves” as well as Muscogee Nation and white forebears.
“Critical Race Theory, or CRT, denies students the ability to process new experiences and new situations. It prejudices or prejudges every situation and every experience by assuming that one must look critically at those around them for fear that their race or sex will dictate superiority, that by virtue of your race or sex you are superior, or that solely by your experiences as a preferred race or sex you should now be treated adversely to assume levels of shared oppression. Thus, CRT creates a breeding or fertile ground for learned implicit bias. Critical Race Theory assumes that we have an inherent problem of race, assumes that we must problematize the issue of race further, and assumes divisions and separations exist and must be critically analyzed through the lenses of ‘oppressed’ versus ‘oppressor.’ Critical Race Theory is at odds with basic, logical thought.”
House Bill 1775 banned Oklahoma’s K-12 schools from teaching several concepts associated with Critical Race Theory, including that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex,” that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously,” or that an individual “should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex.”
The law took effect on July 1, but emergency regulations that provide for its enforcement had to also be approved by the State Board of Education.
The new regulations include a prohibition on segregated classes, programs, training sessions, extracurricular activities, or affinity groups unless such groups are permitted by federal law.
Under the regulations, parents and legal guardians have the right “to inspect curriculum, instructional materials, classroom assignments, and lesson plans to ensure compliance” with H.B. 1775.
Schools are required to develop a complaint process and have 90 days to investigate. However, that period covers a substantial part of the school year since Oklahoma schools are required to meet for just 165 days annually.
A parent can also file a complaint with the State Department of Education, provided a complaint is not simultaneously filed with the local district, and parents may file a complaint with the department if they feel a district’s investigation was flawed.
The regulations bar schools from contracting with outside entities to conduct programs that include material banned by H.B. 1775, and the State Department of Education cannot apply for grants that violate H.B. 1775. Schools are also prohibited “from adopting diversity, equity, or inclusion plans that incorporate the concepts” barred by H.B. 1775.
Under the regulations, school districts that fail to comply with H.B. 1775 can have their annual accreditation status downgraded and districts that do not address shortcomings for two years in a row can face the loss of accreditation, which would result in closure or annexation.
Teachers who violate H.B. 1775 could face loss of a teaching certificate, and any school employee who retaliates over the filing of a complaint could also face the loss of his or her teaching certificate or license. Teachers who file complaints against colleagues would be provided whistleblower protections.
The State Department of Education will provide quarterly compliance reports to the State Board of Education.
Several individuals appeared before the board to encourage adoption of the rules.
Mary Lippert, an Oklahoma City resident, said students at Edmond North High School were required to take a “privilege walk” and one student was singled out as the “most privileged.” Those students had to answer questions that included whether their family employed lawn-service workers or house cleaners, whether there was substance-abuse in their household, and whether they would think twice before calling police.
Tina Craig, who recently retired from Tulsa Public Schools after 31 years with the district, said teachers in Tulsa have been subjected to training infused with the tenets of Critical Race Theory.
“All teachers were required to undergo bias training in Tulsa Public Schools,” Craig said. “I was told that there were two races: white and color. Job applications have more than two races on them. They tried to convince me that I have ‘white privilege.’ Yes, I do have white privilege — the privilege to pay my taxes to go to work every day to support my God and my country. Those are my privileges. I will never apologize for what God has made me.”
Barbara Bowersox, an Oklahoma City resident, noted that parents have “limited resources” and said the state should reduce the financial challenges facing parents concerned about the content of their children’s lessons.
“They should not have to go to court to get judicial protection for their children who just want to learn academic subjects to prepare themselves for successful lives,” Bowersox said.
Nancy Fisher Sangirardi, a retired teacher, similarly stated, “Our children are our most precious commodity, and we have the right to know what is being presented to them in the classrooms.”
“We want a full list, as parents, of what the curriculum is that they’re asking for us to be okay when we enroll our children,” said Tulsa parent Melissa Remington. “We’re asking that the teachers stick to the curriculum, not imply that they will bring in their own books — and we have seen that in Tulsa Public Schools this year.”
Hull, who has also lived and worked in China and India, said CRT criticisms of the United States are not based in reality.
“As an accomplished educator with global experience, including engaging in various cultures and ethnicities, my experiences allow me to unequivocally declare the United States of America is one of the most free — if not the freest — nation in the world in regards to human rights,” Hull said. “Our nation champions the basic privilege of equality bestowed to all men.”
In an interview, Hull said her diverse heritage played a role in her decision to speak out publicly against Critical Race Theory.
“I will always speak out because the America that I know never oppressed me,” Hull said. “The United States of America that I know has always given me the opportunity to succeed.”
Only one citizen spoke against adoption of the HB 1775 regulations — Sapphira Lloyd, a public-school student who is black. She said children are not being taught to feel guilt over the actions of historic figures based on shared heritage.
“Nobody is telling children that they are bad people because Christopher Columbus, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson were,” Lloyd said.
She said H.B. 1775’s prohibitions will negatively impact teaching.
“Native American voices are not heard, because we’re still on their land,” Lloyd said. “Latinx/Hispanic communities are never cared for. Black voices have never been heard, yet here we are still trying. Are we going to forget the fact that Thomas Jefferson and all of our famous Founding Fathers were slave owners?”
State board member Carlisha Bradley, who is black, echoed Lloyd’s assessment, saying H.B. 1775 lacked clear definitions.
“With us operating on an unclear definition of Critical Race Theory, I do believe that this bill and these rules continue to propel fear in teaching the true and accurate history of our country,” Bradley said.
Bradley said if she had been a state lawmaker, she “would have voted no on House Bill 1775.”
“With this legislation, with these rules, we are robbing students of the opportunity to have a high-quality education, to think critically about the world around us, and to build a more just society,” Bradley said.
But state board member Estela Hernandez, who is Hispanic, said the regulations provide clarity, noting the law allows teachers to cover any content in state academic standards, which she stressed include “the dark areas of American history.”
“For those teachers who feel fearful about teaching, don’t be,” Hernandez said. “Just stick to those standards. Just teach history the way that is outlined there.”
The board voted to adopt the regulations on a 5-1 vote with Bradley the lone opponent. Most board members who approved the regulations were racial minorities and/or women, two groups typically described as “oppressed” under the rubric of Critical Race Theory and its offshoots.
The Oklahoma Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union whose leadership previously criticized H.B. 1775, issued a brief statement following adoption of the regulations.
“We believe this should clear up some confusion and gives Oklahoma’s educators the confidence to continue teaching as they have been since the standards were adopted,” said OEA President Katherine Bishop. “We encourage the involvement of education professionals in the full rule-making process moving forward.”
NOTE: Ray Carter is director of the Center for Independent Journalism. His news story first appeared at the website of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, here. Carter has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. His reports often appear online at this website, and in The City Sentinel print edition.