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Education

Utah State Board Of Education Considers Equity Training For Teachers And Guardrails Around Curriculum

Photo of the Utah State Board of Education seal on a wall inside the board building.
Rocio Hernandez
/
KUER
The Utah State Board of Education may soon require districts and charter schools to offer diversity training for teachers.

The Utah State Board of Education is considering a new rule that would require public school districts and charter schools to provide diversity, equity and inclusion training for teachers. It would also place guardrails around curricula related to race and other identity groups. The Standards and Assessment Committee passed the first version Thursday night, though it still has to be reviewed by the full board.

The creation of the rule pre-dates the recent national debate around Critical Race Theory in schools. That debate has put greater focus on the issue though, as outspoken parents argue that equity and diversity trainings are CRT in disguise. They say both CRT and various diversity training plans overemphasize race and make white people feel guilty for the racism of their ancestors.

“We may have the highest viewer ratings of the season,” said committee chair Scott Hansen at the start of the meeting. “We recognize the substantial nudge we got here from the Legislature to take some action.”

State lawmakers recently passed a resolution on Critical Race Theory. The education board’s proposed rule adheres to the criteria laid out by the Legislature, specifying that equity trainings cannot promote or endorse ideas that say a “student or educator’s sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or membership in any other protected class is inherently superior or inferior to another,” or that a student bears responsibility for the past actions of someone from the same identity.

The rule also makes clear that curricula and classroom instruction related to issues such as race should follow those same guidelines. They must also be age-appropriate and approved in a public meeting by the local school board.

“This rule was particularly challenging because we don't have a core standard for equity,” Hansen said. “If certain components of these concepts are to be taught, then they need to be taught in accordance with these rules. And so I believe the transparency aspect of it gives the public, the parents, a chance to hold teachers and leaders accountable to see these are presented in the right fashion. But the rules are also structured so that we don't restrict teachers from getting into current events.”

Jennie Earl, a board member who has spoken out against Critical Race Theory, proposed most of the changes that were considered Thursday night. Most involved tweaks that would emphasize students — including those in the majority — should neither be shamed nor receive preferential treatment because of their race or background. Many addressed ideas around reverse racism.

“It could be the idea of — and I'll throw some terms out there that we're seeing floating around — the idea of white fragility, compelling someone to feel a certain way or affirm something,” Earl said. “And in this case something that encourages or results in racial type of discrimination.”

Board member Brent Strate responded that current law already prohibits teachers and school employees from discriminating on the basis of race or any other category.

Not all of Earl’s suggestions were accepted, but the discussion illustrated the fine line board members are walking as they work to address disparities in public schools while not overstepping parents’ concerns.

The board’s definition of equity, for example, requires some students receive more resources than others because of certain disadvantages they may face, which some might construe as preferential discrimination.

“Going back many years, I felt compelled and was compelled to have accommodations [for disabled students],” Strate said. “I would say that a great majority of teachers said ‘What is going on here? [Students] sit in class and they get the same thing that everyone else does. Why do they need these accommodations?’ Guess what? I am completely opposite of that now. I see purpose and need behind the accommodations we give the students.”

The rule must still be considered by the full board next week and will likely be tweaked further. If approved, it would then be open to public comment before it’s implemented.

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