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Education

Utah Lawmakers Not Considering A Ban On Critical Race Theory Yet — But The Issue Remains Contentious.

A photo of diverse school kids sitting in a library and reading.
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Critical Race Theory has become a contentious topic largely for conservative parents and lawmakers around the country.

Parents and Republican lawmakers around Utah are concerned students are learning Critical Race Theory, or CRT, in school.

CRT is an academic framework for understanding how racism — whether conscious or not — fuels the many disparities that exist in the country today, from Black people and people of color earning less than white people to students of color doing worse in schools.

Critics of the theory argue it’s divisive, inflaming tension by encouraging people to identify chiefly along racial lines and view America as a racist country.

Several states have banned teaching it in schools, including Idaho and Tennessee. U.S. Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, also introduced national legislation that would restrict teaching Critical Race Theory within federal institutions and highlight “the dangers of teaching CRT in U.S. schools.”

Some parents in Utah hoped state leaders would consider similar action in Utah during a special Legislative session this week. Gov. Spencer Cox, however, opted to not include it on the agenda.

Elizabeth Nielson, a parent in the Davis School District, said one of her biggest problems with CRT is that, in her mind, it labels all white people as oppressors and people of color as victims.

“They’re saying racism is harmful,” Nielson said. “I agree. It’s horrible. But then turning it so that everybody becomes racist, so that no matter what you are, you’re racist. There’s no realm in Critical Race Theory for anything to be evaluated on the person’s actual character, attitudes, actions [and] behavior.”

Kathleen Christy, a retired equity director from the Salt Lake City School District who continues to consult and advocate on educational equity issues in the state, said CRT is not necessarily taught in schools.

But it does inform broader efforts schools are making to create more diverse and inclusive environments, such as anti-bias training for teachers and looking at the country’s history from non-white perspectives.

“We're all socialized in this society to have these stereotypes and biases about people,” Christy said. “We have low expectations of certain kids. That impacts their access, their ability to be successful. If we don't disrupt that through the trainings that we do, then the kids don't have a chance.”

In a letter to state legislators, Cox said more time is needed to better understand the issue and come to a consensus.

“I am on record saying that CRT has no place in our curriculum,” he wrote. “The difficulty, however, comes in defining terms and making sure that we are never stifling thought or expression — and that we make sure our children learn both the best of our past as well as our mistakes so we don’t repeat them.”

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