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Utah Legislature Urges School Board To Ban Teaching Principles They Associate With Critical Race Theory

A photo of the Utah House of Representatives chamber.
Sonja Hutson
The Utah House of Representatives met in special session Wednesday.

The Utah House and Senate both passed non-binding resolutions Wednesday that urge the state’s school board to ban teaching certain principles lawmakers say could be a part of critical race theory.

Critical race theory is an academic framework for understanding how racism creates and sustains the many disparities that exist in the country today. The framework is not currently part of curriculum in Utah’s public schools. According to a statement from the board, no member has suggested adopting it into its standards.

“A lot of parents — they’re afraid,” said Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross. “They’re afraid that critical race theory may be used in schools to shame their children. They don’t want their children to feel guilty or to feel anguish because of the way God made them.”

The sponsor of the Senate resolution, Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, said the definition of CRT isn’t clear and he’s hoping the state school board can help better define it.

“This is an effort to bring the temperature down,” Fillmore said. “It is my hope that this resolution — carefully worded to ask the state Board of Education to thoughtfully review, study and implement standards and definitions — will serve to bring down that temperature.”

The legislative resolutions urge the board not to adopt curricula that teaches:

  • that one race is inherently superior or inferior to another race;
  • that an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of the individual's race
  • that an individual's moral character is determined by the individual's race.

Support for CRT

Critics of the resolutions said those principles are not a part of CRT. The Utah Educational Equity Coalition — a group of educators, researchers and parents — said the resolution makes it clear they need to be more involved in discussions about critical race theory with lawmakers.

“Bring them in the room, along with everyone else, to have a very deliberative, intentional and informed conversation, not grabbing soundbites from here, there and everywhere and making them into talking points,” said Betty Sawyer, the president of Ogden’s chapter of the NAACP. “Let's sit back, take our time.”

Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Salt Lake City, said teaching critical race theory can actually help bring people together.

“Critical thinking is not easy, but true understanding is what we need to bring everyone together,” she said. “The temperature's been high already. We've had riots. We've had things from systemic racism from long ago. The temperature is high, but without an understanding, a true understanding. How do we come together?”

Searching for a Definition

During a meeting with reporters, Senate President Stuart Adams couldn’t explain how critical race theory taught that “one race is inherently superior or inferior to another race.”

“It might be that white above Black or Black above white, or purples above red,” Adams said. “If you read some of the critical race theory, it's hard to know what they think. … We're very clear one race shouldn't be elevated over another in any form. I don't think we have any specifics.”

Tug-of-War With the Governor

Republican legislative leadership had asked Gov. Spencer Cox to include critical race theory on the agenda for a special session held Wednesday. Cox declined, arguing that the issue is complex and lawmakers should spend more time crafting policy addressing it. He suggested the legislature wait until the General Session in January to vote on binding legislation.

“The governor's decision earlier this week to exclude a couple of items that seem to be very important to the citizens of the state, as well as policymakers, caught us a little off guard and I think was also a little troubling to us,” House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said.

The House and Senate called themselves into an “extraordinary session” — where they could pass resolutions but not laws — to discuss the issue. Adams said he wasn’t sure exactly what would have been in the bill if they had been allowed to consider one Wednesday.

“I don't know if there was anything that was totally defined, but I can tell you [it] is on the minds of our constituents,” Adams said. “Our inboxes are being flooded. My voicemail at home is full … They're concerned. Is it being taught at school? We're hearing it's not. So if it's not, we wanted to move ahead and actually ensure it wasn't.”

CRT has become a hot-button issue among Republicans nationally. Idaho and Tennessee have both banned teaching it. Rep. Burgess Owens, R-UT, has introduced a federal bill to limit the inclusion of the framework in federal institutions.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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