More than 100 people gathered before the Granite School Board Tuesday to attack or defend the principles of critical race theory, which already is banned from the state’s education curriculum.
Critical race theory is an academic framework that identifies racism as the defining feature of the United States, shaping the country’s founding and current legal system.
The theory is not currently being taught in Utah K-12 schools, and school districts do not have the power to change the state’s curriculum. That power is held by the Utah Board of Education, but that didn’t stop protesters from targeting the Granite school board as it met in the auditorium of the district’s building in Salt Lake City.
Outside, a group of people stood along State Street, with one person banging on a drum, another waving the American flag and a few people holding signs that read “Granite silences parents” and “Stop teaching our kids to be racist.” There were members of the Proud Boys, a far-right men’s group, in attendance.
Many of those wanting to ban critical race theory sat on one side of the room, and most of those who came to advocate for it sat on the other. Some protesters stood and loudly recited the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of the meeting, while others dropped to one knee and raised a fist in the air.
It was not the first time that a Granite School District board meeting became the center of protest. On Tuesday morning, 11 people were charged with disrupting a public meeting — a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine — after they forced an early end to a school board meeting in May by storming the room and shouting obscenities at board members.
Jessica Fiveash, who is running for City Council in Riverdale, said that she organized Tuesday night’s protest against critical race theory. Fiveash does not live within the Granite School District boundaries, but she said she wanted to encourage parents who do to raise their voice against critical race theory.
Fiveash reported that some of those same people who were charged for disrupting the previous meeting were at the Granite School District building, though they did not come inside for the meeting.
“I’d like to stand in for them in there, because they would be in there if they could,” Fiveash said.
Many of those in support of critical race theory were there because Lex Scott, founder of Black Lives Matter Utah, organized a counterprotest after hearing about Fiveash’s call on social media. Scott took a screenshot of the post and tweeted it on the Black Lives Matter Utah account.
Eric Moutsos, founder of Utah Business Revival, followed suit and posted a screenshot of Scott’s tweet on the group’s Facebook page and encouraged his followers to get there early.
Utah Business Revival has sponsored protests against pandemic-related health measures, including one at the Utah Capitol where children tore apart a large paper mask, and one where the group burned a giant effigy of a vaccine syringe.
Scott followed up with a TikTok video telling people to attend the protest and posted it on Black Lives Matter Utah’s Twitter page. She used Moutsos’ post as the background of her video and asked attendees to “remain peaceful and not take the bait of white supremacists.”
“We started getting these posts cropping up this morning and we were all scratching our heads wondering why this has turned into the forum for these types of contentions,” said Ben Horsley, Granite School District director of communications. “Frankly, these groups can go and combat each other in myriad other places, and we’re unsure why our meeting has been selected as the battlefront.”
Granite School District officials created special tip sheets titled “Public Meeting Decorum” and left them on each of the chairs in the auditorium. The sheet reminded attendees that only those who had signed up in advance were allowed to address the board and that “speakers should refrain from personal attacks, insults, defamatory or slanderous comments about an individual or group.”
“People get confused anytime elected officials gather,” said Horsley. “We actually do have business to conduct. … We’re expending taxpayer dollars for various projects, and that has to be approved in open meetings for the public to see.”
Fiveash said she organized the protest to ask for more time to speak during board meetings because Granite has a policy that allows for only three speakers from the public per meeting.
“Instead of teaching our kids history and greatness and how we are today, we’re turning our kids into weak-minded America haters,” Fiveash said.
Salt Lake City resident Rae Duckworth addressed the board and asked why all 12 members were white when Granite is “such a diverse school district.”
On June 4, the Board of Education approved new standards that dictate what teachers can and cannot say to their students about ethnicity, inclusion, equity and culture. It is up to individual districts to implement those rules, but they were not part of the official discussion at the Granite School District meeting on Tuesday night.
The changes came after the Utah Legislature passed two resolutions in May instructing the 15-member board that oversees education policy in the state to include in its efforts a ban on teaching “harmful” critical race theory concepts in K-12 schools.
Tuesday’s protest occurred just after the end of the 30-day cooling off period the Board of Education instituted after approving the standards.
The board listened to the commenters and thanked the crowd for remaining civil during the speeches, but they did not debate the topic at the meeting.
One speaker, Eric Hedin, took to the podium and claimed the theory was “Marxism” and asked the board, “Do you think America is fundamentally good, or fundamentally bad?” He closed his comments with a fervent “God bless America,” which drew applause from the crowd.