Kansas education official reiterates critical race theory was ‘never, ever’ part of school curriculum

By: - July 13, 2021 4:12 pm

Kansas State Department of Education commissioner Randy Watson addressed false claims that critical race theory is being taught in Kansas classrooms. (Kansas State Department of Education)

TOPEKA — As Kansas schools face mounting pressure from parents and lawmakers to ban critical race theory from classrooms, education officials are reiterating that the subject is not part of the state curriculum.

Critical race theory is the college-level study of race as a social construct and the ways racism is embedded into various social systems. It has become a topic of contention nationwide and in Kansas, and that conversation led Kansas State Department of Education commissioner Randy Watson to address those issues Tuesday.

“The standards of which Kansas schools are required to teach have always been developed by Kansas teachers,” Watson said. “It has never, ever included critical race theory, nor does it today.”

Amid outcry from parents, school board members and state education officials have repeatedly stated the subject of critical race theory is not taught in any Kansas schools. Still, candidates for the Republican Party’s nomination for governor have signed pledges standing against CRT and state Senators are vowing to introduce bills formally banning the subject.

State school board officials indicated they will not recommend critical race theory be taught — their responsibility is to set standards for subject areas, not determine the curriculum taught. Jim Porter, chairman of the state board of education, said several board members received emails wondering when critical race theory would be on the agenda.

“It’s not going to be on the agenda today, but things have happened. … I am reading statements from people that are running for office that are both inaccurate and irresponsible,” Porter said.

The mission outlined by KSDE for history, government and social studies is to “prepare students to be informed, thoughtful, engaged citizens as they enrich their communities, state, nation, world and themselves.”

School boards around the state are also making statements of their own reiterating points made by the state board.

“Wichita Public Schools does not teach critical race theory,” read a statement from the state’s largest school district. “Our curriculum is research-based and rigorous and is aligned to the Kansas State Department of Education standards. Recognizing that equity does not always mean equality, Wichita Public Schools provides support and resources to students based on data and student need.”

A video explaining critical race theory is also viewable on the “Equity, Diversity and Accountability” tab of the Wichita Public Schools website.

“As a district, we remain steadfast in our commitment to equity, inclusion and continuous improvement so that all students feel valued and are prepared for their future,” read a Monday statement from Olathe Public Schools. “We serve more than 30,000 students with diverse thoughts, beliefs, perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds. Our job is to prepare all of them to achieve personal success.”

According to reporting from The Manhattan Mercury, about 30 people were ordered to leave a Manhattan-Ogden school board meeting after some people began yelling over each other. The public comment period on diversity training for teachers ended with a call to the Riley County Police Department.

A May email from the Riley County Republican Party claimed the school district was attempting to teach critical race theory to “indoctrinate” children into practicing racism.

Apart from critical race theory, state education leaders announced the schools chosen for the next round of the Kansas Can School Redesign Project.

The 12 schools located across Andover, Columbus, Emporia, Hutchinson and Winfield school districts will be redesigned around five outcomes outlined by the state board of education — improving kindergarten readiness, high school graduation rates, individual plans of study, post-secondary success, and social and emotional health. So far, 194 schools in 71 districts have undergone or are currently undergoing the redesign process.

“We are really proud and excited with these numbers, but we realize there is still a lot of work to be done,” said Tammy Mitchell, a leader for the Kansas State Department of Education’s Redesign Project.

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.