Debates about teaching critical race theory in Kansas schools boil across the state and the nation. However, officials at the Kansas Department of Education and at one of the nation’s largest teacher unions say Kansas educators aren’t training students in critical race theory.

State Education Commissioner Randy Watson told members of the state board of education on Tuesday that CRT is not part of the Kansas curriculum standards.

“It has never, ever included critical race theory, nor does it today,” he told the board in a very brief comment about the topic.

The President of the second largest teacher’s union echoed Watson’s comments during her remarks at the American Federation of Teachers 2021 conference last week.

“Let’s be clear: Critical race theory is not taught in elementary schools or high schools,” she told a virtual audience. “It’s a method of examination taught in law school and college that helps analyze whether systemic racism exists, and in particular, whether it has an effect on law and public policy,” Randi Weingarten said.

Lawmaker vows to sponsor CRT ban

A Wichita lawmaker, who vows to sponsor state legislation to ban CRT from Kansas classrooms next session, won’t argue with Weingarten. 

“They may call it an examination tool, but it is an ideological weapon and worldview,” Rep.

Rep. Patrick Penn, R-Wichita

Patrick Penn said. “The problem is that as it deconstructs and problematizes our society with its view, the world it wants to recreate is not one that anyone with a Christian or even a patriotic worldview will want to live in.”

Penn, a Wichita Republican, says CRT isn’t the fish or even the water in an aquarium. CRT is the air filtration system, and the tank is the classroom.

“It’s the air being pumped into the filter,” he said. “It completely permeates and pervades everything that’s happening inside the tank. It infiltrates the water. It influences everything in the tank. It kills the fish, mind, body, and soul.”

Like AFT, the National Educators Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, made CRT a central focus of its annual conference and business meeting a few weeks ago. 

No one is buying the CRT denials that groups like  AFT and the Kansas State Board of Education are selling. That includes Ryan Girdusky, an author and pundit who launched the 1776 Project. The political action committee is designed to elect candidates to local school boards who reject CRT.

He says a culture as diverse as the US needs a common understanding of one another. His PAC will engage in Kansas school board races after the August primary.

“That doesn’t happen when you’re telling white children that they’re racist and non-white children that they’ll be limited in their efforts to succeed based on their race,” he said.

CRT campaign issue in school board races

In Kansas, at least one school board member is taking a proactive approach in eliminating the tenets of critical race theory from its classrooms. School board member John Whitesel recommended banning the underlying principles of CRT in USD 312 Haven schools. He faced pushback from a Kansas Association of School Board attorney over the proposal. His motion to ban CRT in Haven classrooms died for lack of a second during a meeting yesterday, which at least implies that the other school board members support using the CRT principles in Haven schools.

Local school board candidates are campaigning on the issue as well. For example, in Lansing, school board candidate Amy Cawvey told “Fox & Friends” last week she is running specifically to keep CRT out of USD 469 schools.

“I’m planning on a worst-case scenario that (CRT) will be implemented into schools as official curriculum… and our school board will be the last line of defense,” she said.

Wichita School District officials issued a statement saying the district does not teach critical race theory.

“Our curriculum is research-based and rigorous and is aligned to the Kansas State Department of Education standards. Recognizing that equity does not always mean equality, Wichita Public Schools provides support and resources to students based on data and student need.”

The district directs its patrons to an Education Week video about critical race theory. One slide in the video admits that CRT is not a formal part of the school curriculum. Instead, it says, CRT is a “way of thinking about the world.”

This is a controversy because of the near-absolute-power held by public schools to dictate every detail of a child’s academic life,” says James Franko, President of the Kansas Policy Institute. (KPI owns the Sentinel.)

Penn welcomes debate about ‘true history’

Despite assurances that CRT isn’t being taught in schools, Weingarten announced that AFT created a legal defense fund to defend teachers who teach “honest history.” AFT represents Wichita teachers.

“Distorting history and threatening educators for teaching the truth is what is truly radical and wrong,” she said.

If no one is teaching CRT, why does AFT have a legal defense fund for it, Penn asks. He looks forward to having a conversation about true history next session when lawmakers debate CRT bans in the Kansas Legislature.

“We welcome the opportunity to teach all of American history,” he said. “And that includes the terrible record that the progressive Left and Democrats have had historically in communities of color. The true history.”

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