Group classroom at LOOM

Photograph courtesy of LOOM

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include comments from Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District board member Leandra Blades.

After months of hearings, rallies, and contentious discourse in the community, a school district in Orange County narrowly voted this week to ban from its classrooms the teaching of critical race theory—a topic native to higher education and that has never actually been taught in the district, nor planned for any future curriculum.

On Tuesday night, the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District board voted 3-2 to ban CRT, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times. CRT, which is loosely defined as the examination of the intersection of race, law, and society at large, has come to carry various meanings across the political spectrum as the term became a political football and racist dog-whistle amid Donald Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign. 

Since then, conservative lawmakers have decided to introduce legislation to ban CRT in public schools, calling it anti-American and suggesting such discourse unfairly villainizes white people. Supporters tend to view CRT as a vital means of interrogating America’s past to understand its present. Recent debate around the issue was largely ignited by the New York Times’ Pulitzer-winning “The 1619 Project,” an editorial series published in 2019 that reframed American history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at its center.

The debate over CRT and its role in primary education began to rattle the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District last year. An hours-long November meeting saw trustees debating the definition of the theory, which until recently was pretty much exclusively found in higher education curriculums. That highly-attended meeting, as the Los Angeles Times reported, ended with the board kicking the vote down the road. 

At Tuesday night’s vote, two of the trustees in attendance called the measure to preemptively ban CRT in the district’s K-12 schools a form of censorship. Those in favor of the ban, however, said that teaching children about race and how it shaped U.S. history should be left to parents, the newspaper reported.

Leandra Blades, who joined the district’s school board in 2020, supported the ban. In a phone interview, Blades told Los Angeles Magazine that she’s been hearing complaints from parents about CMT, social justice issues and discussions around the Black Lives Matter movement seeping into curriculum for some time; the California Teachers Association is likely behind this reported trend, she said.

“[Parents] felt that the teachers union had taken over our schools, and were pushing in all of this type of curriculum. And the parents have been sitting at home with their children, listening to Zooms, and hearing all of this stuff. I just felt like their curriculum had been hijacked,” Blades said.

Blades joined the board in 2020, along with Shawn Youngblood and Marilyn Anderson; all three trustees, who Blades said were fellow grassroots candidates, voted in favor of the ban. On Thursday, she called into question the motivations of her fellow trustees who voted against it.

“I think it’s important to bring up that the two people who were against the ban and who want critical race theory are also California Teachers Association-endorsed candidates,” Blades said by phone. “They are endorsed every single time by the teachers union. So are their opinions really their own? Or that or is it because they’re beholden to the teachers union to vote that certain way?”

The 3-2 vote came after an hour of public comment. Carrie Buck, the president of the school board, said that she believes that those directly involved in and affected by the curriculum—the teachers and students—mostly disapproved of the ban. A draft of the resolution couches the decision with language indicating that the district still does support inclusivity and an array of perspectives, despite the ban. 

“The District supports efforts in education to promote equity, respect, diversity; celebrate the contributions of all; and encourage culturally relevant and inclusive teaching practices, but will not allow the use of Critical Race Theory as a framework to guide such efforts,” the draft reads. 

 As of late March, 16 states have put laws on their books restricting education on race in classrooms or within state agencies, ABC News reported; nearly 20 other states are currently considering similar bills. Six states have failed to similar legislation since 2020.

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