While the state continues to make decisions on changes in the way social studies is taught, Pitt County Schools says critical race theory is not currently being presented in its classrooms.
Steve Lassiter, assistant superintendent of educational programs, said Monday that current state standards do not address critical race theory, and CRT is not included in the district’s curriculum.
Lassiter’s comments came at a Board of Education workshop in response to a question from Chairwoman Melinda Fagundus about how critical race theory fits or does not fit into the curriculum.
“I’m getting lots of questions about that,” said Fagundus, who called CRT a “hot-button” issue.
Monday’s was the second consecutive meeting at which the board talked about critical race theory, a movement that suggests “the law and legal institutions in the United States are inherently racist,” according to Encyclopedia Britannica.
CRT was introduced into a discussion on June 7 when District 9 representative Benjie Forrest tried to amend a “Resolution to Improve Student Learning Conditions” to include language opposing the teaching of critical race theory and The 1619 Project. Both the amendment and the resolution were rejected.
Critical race theory was not listed on the agenda of either of the board’s June meetings. But it has become a topic of discussion across the state and nation since the Biden administration proposed this spring that projects that incorporate “racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse perspectives” be given priority for receiving grants for American history and civics education programs.
Critics of North Carolina’s new social studies standard course of study, adopted by the state Board of Education in February, say the standards incorporate critical race theory.
Standards, determined at the state level, define what students are expected to learn in a given academic year. Curriculum, which is determined at the local level, is the means used to achieve the standards. It includes resources such as textbooks, programs and activities.
Earlier this month, the state House approved a COVID-19 relief bill that included a 12-month delay in implementing the new social studies standards. But the Senate rejected the bill, leaving lawmakers to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions.
Meanwhile, the state Board of Education continues to make decisions about supporting documents, which are designed to help teachers understand how to interpret and teach the standards. While some of the documents were approved last week, others for grades 6-12 are scheduled to be approved in July. Teachers are not required to use the supporting documents in the classroom.
Preston Bowers, the district’s high school facilitator and AVID director, told the school board that while the state settles the debate, local educators are preparing to implement the new standards, should they take effect for the new school year in August.
Bowers said the district trains its teachers on techniques for engaging in impartial study, especially when dealing with sensitive and controversial topics in the classroom. He said there are board policies in place to address this.
Policy 7720 prohibits school employees from using their position to sway others on political issues. Policy 3210 allows parents to review instructional materials and provides a process for stating objections to those materials.
“We had a training in February 2020, just before everything shut down, with all high school social studies teachers,” Bowers said, explaining that the training was scheduled for 2020 because it was an election year. “I went through these policies and just reminded them, ‘It’s not your job to tell your students how their parents should vote.’
“We’re not talking about a teacher can’t use any political material,” he said. “They just have to put thought into the selection.”
Kimberly Lucas, 6-12 English-language arts curriculum resource specialist for Pitt County Schools, said teachers’ opinions on issues should not be evident to their students.
“Student should be able to identify that I’ve used a variety of texts, so they never know where I stand,” she said. “We’re teaching standards, not a stance.”
At Monday’s workshop, Lucas, along with High School ELA Curriculum Specialist Malissa Lane and Elementary ELA District Specialist Claudia Lanier, shared a presentation on engaging in impartial studies, which school principals heard last fall.
Lane said that even when teachers do a good job of presenting their lessons without bias, sometimes comments made by students during class discussions can lead to parent complaints.
Lassiter said district leaders received numerous complaints during the last school year about the content of classroom lessons and assignments, which he attributed, in part, to a divisive political climate across the country.
“There are some times when topics are so fresh and so hot that they need a minute to die down, and then we can go back and revisit,” he said. “Teachers have to use good judgment when it comes to these controversial topics or hot-button topics and issues.”
Forrest said board members have had several complaints from parents who have objected to lessons and materials that have been posted online for their students.
“If the last year and a half did one thing, it brought more transparency of lessons to parents,” he said. “There might have been some little biases that were worked into lessons that you never saw, but we caught ‘heck’ because exposing it transparently through virtual education showed parents” things they didn’t realize their children were being taught.
Lassiter said that to help ensure that lessons remain unbiased, the district plans to remind educators each year of best practices for engaging in impartial study.
“Whether it’s by module or we put the course in Canvas (online learning management system), I do agree that every year it has to be in front of our staff,” he said. “Again, we don’t hire teachers to teach what they believe. We hire them to teach the North Carolina standard course of study.
“I don’t want to vilify teachers,” Lassiter said. “Our teachers are fantastic and well-intentioned. But there are times when these types of things come out of innocent intentions.”