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The Utah Board of Ed’s ‘educational equity’ rule is likely up for a repeal vote

A photo of a small crowd with a Black woman standing and speaking at a podium.
Sonja Hutson
Supporters and protestors stand behind Ogden NAACP leader Betty Sawyer at a press conference on Critical Race Theory on the steps of the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, May 19, 2021.

Update Jan. 12: In an 8-7 vote, the full board voted to keep the educational equity rule. However, changes to the rule could be coming in the future. Our original story continues below.

The Utah State Board of Education is staring down a vote on whether to repeal its own rule requiring “educational equity” in all of the state’s schools. Three board members and two state lawmakers say it conflicts with a new Utah law.

The rule defines educational equity as “acknowledging that all students are capable of learning and distributing resources to provide equal opportunities based upon the needs of each individual student.” Among other things, it requires school districts to provide equity training to educators to make sure that happens.

The board passed it unanimously in 2021 after intense debate.

But in 2023, legislators passed a law requiring everything taught in Utah schools to be consistent with “certain principles of individual freedom.” That includes not teaching that anyone is “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive” because of their “race, sex, or sexual orientation.”

Republican Rep. Tim Jimenez, the bill’s sponsor, and Sen. Michael Kennedy later sent a letter to school board leadership stating their “profound concern regarding the lack of meaningful action after the passing of House Bill 427.” The two said the board’s rules and policies were in conflict with the law, pointing directly to the one on educational equity, and that the body had not done anything to fix it.

Jimenez and Kennedy both declined KUER’s requests for comment.

In November, three board members, Emily Green, Joseph Kerry and Christina Boggess put their proposal to do away with the whole rule before the board’s standards and assessment committee. In December, the committee voted 4-1 to move that request to the full body to discuss at its next meeting, which is Jan. 11.

The lone dissenting vote, member Sarah Reale, shared her opposition and frustration with this proposal, but outside of that, the committee had limited discussion before voting.

Green, who is also the vice chair of the committee, said in the meeting the issue needs to be dealt with by the full board, rather than a smaller debate in committee.

Green, Kerry and Boggess all did not respond to KUER’s requests for comment.

Boggess explained her rationale in a GOP resolution supporting the repeal of this rule. In it, Boggess ties the equity rule to critical race theory — a framework from academia that is not a part of Utah’s K-12 curriculum, despite repeated complaints from parents and state lawmakers. A 2022 state audit found a few examples where classroom content could potentially be related to critical race theory.

The state Republican Party’s resolution claims the educational equity rule “installed, codified and further entrenched the Praxis of CRT into Utah’s Schools.”

The rule originally passed after the Legislature formally urged the board to ban teaching certain topics they saw as a part of critical race theory. The rule mirrors the principles laid out by lawmakers. In addition to directing what should happen, the rule says what should not be promoted or endorsed in teacher training. This includes not saying a student or educator is superior or inferior based on their sex, race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. Or that someone bears responsibility for past actions of someone because of shared identity. It also requires content to be age-appropriate.

Reale said getting rid of the equity rule would be bad for students, bad for teachers and a waste of time.

“I don’t have time to play into these made-up culture wars that are just distracting from the real work we need to be doing,” Reale told KUER.

When she hears from educators and community members about their school-related concerns, Reale said they want more resources, such as better teacher pay or more paraeducators. Getting rid of the educational equity rule is not on their priority lists, she said.

One of her concerns is that repealing the rule would also eliminate training to help educators create an equitable and inclusive environment, as well as navigate tough situations.

“With the changing population that we have in the state, I think it’s more important than ever to make sure that we know how to serve all of our students and provide them each with the opportunity to succeed and get a great education,” Reale said. “Repealing the rule is taking away a lot of the tenets that we have in place to make sure that we are giving every student that opportunity.”

Reale added the rule also provides transparency to parents and requires curriculum to be approved in an open, public meeting.

“There’s probably room for improvement within the rule and things that we could do to amend it, to make it better. I really do think that. But getting rid of it altogether just seems like the most unnecessary, extreme move that the board could take,” Reale said.

While Reale is frustrated this is on the table, she’s encouraged by the robust response she’s heard from educators, parents and local school board members in favor of the equity rule.

“I have gotten zero emails in my inbox from folks asking to repeal it. And I think that goes to show that overwhelmingly folks understand the importance of equity in education,” Reale said.

The state’s largest teachers’ union, the Utah Education Association, opposes getting rid of it. A member of the board’s advisory committee on Equity of Educational Services for Students, Adebimpe Idowu Deji-Olatunde, said that their group is also against getting rid of the equity rule.

Updated: January 12, 2024 at 10:32 AM MST
Story has been updated with the outcome of the Board of Education vote taken on Jan. 11, 2024.
Martha is KUER’s education reporter.
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