How 3 Utah education leaders are working to repeal an “educational equity” rule for all students

The Utah State Board of Education will consider the request of board members Christina Boggess, Emily Green and Joseph Kerry on Friday and take public comment.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utah Board of Education will hear public comment on Friday regarding an effort by three board members to repeal a rule requiring "educational equity" for all students. In this May 19, 2021 photo, Monica Wilbur expresses her opposition to critical race theory at the State Capitol. Crowding around her are people who agree with her and people who don't.

The Utah State Board of Education will consider repealing an administrative rule that ensures “educational equity” for all Utah students.

R277-328 Educational Equity in Schools defines “equity” as recognizing that all students can learn and that schools will provide the resources they need for equal educational opportunities. That includes funding, programs, policies, and other supports to afford students the same access to education, no matter their backgrounds

The repeal request comes from state board members Christina Boggess, Emily Green and Joseph Kerry. They did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The potential repeal was originally a last-minute addition to a Nov. 30 Standards and Assessment Committee meeting. It was tacked on to the agenda only hours before the 3 p.m. meeting, according to state officials.

But a resulting surge of emails and phone calls from members of the public prompted state leaders to delay discussion of the matter until the committee’s next meeting on Friday, Dec. 8.

“There were a couple of rules that were added onto the agenda and that didn’t get noticed until 10 this morning,” said Michelle Beus, state liability prevention specialist, last week. “Although this committee is not subject to the Open and Public Meetings Act, it is the practice of the board to have its committees post as if it were, so the public is aware of everything that’s going to be addressed in the committee meeting.”

Members of the public who attended the Nov. 30 meeting were still invited to speak, and many opposed the potential repeal.

“The point of R277-328 is to actually address inequity and racism in schools,” said Amara Bray, a member of the public who attended the meeting last week. “We are continuing to see inequity in Utah schools, even though students of color are a relatively small percentage of students. I ask you to please keep equity as a priority in schools.”

The equity rule was passed in 2021 after intense deliberation and debate among board members and the public. At the time, opponents feared the rules were a “backdoor” to the teaching of critical race theory in Utah schools. The graduate-level theory analyzes how social and political laws and media shape social conceptions of race and ethnicity and considers racism to be systemic and inherent in Western society. It has never been taught in Utah’s K-12 schools.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) At a special session of the Legislature on May 19, 2021, Utah House Democrats walked off the floor as Republicans moved to debate a resolution on teaching critical race theory. Concepts of student equity are again under consideration at the Utah Board of Education, which will hear from the public on Friday regarding a proposed repeal of the state's "educational equity rule."

“[The equity rule provides] instruction for local boards, and local charters, to make sure that they’re implementing and providing the protections that are required by law,” said Randy Boothe, school board member and chair of the Standards and Assessment Committee.

To make sure this happens, the rule requires districts to provide equity training for staff and teachers and guarantees the protection and inclusion of all students with diverse identities and backgrounds.

And while the rule acknowledges educators’ rights to use age-appropriate language and to impartially guide classroom discussions, it also prohibits the teaching of specific equity-related concepts

Those prohibited concepts are: that a student or educator belonging to a certain group bears responsibility for the past actions of individuals of that same group; that any race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, or any other protected class is inherently superior or inferior; that a student or educator’s identity within a certain group determines their character or values; and that a student or educator should be discriminated against based on their race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, or any other protected class.

Boothe said he’s not sure why his fellow board members requested the repeal but that he’s “eager to hear.”

However, board documents state the rule is “in conflict” with HB427: Individual Freedom in Public Schools and should be repealed.

The law, passed this year, requires that students are taught about racism, sexism and oppression in a way that is consistent with “certain principles.” Those principles are individual freedom, meritocracy and that individuals are not inherently racist or sexist due to their race, gender or other identities.

Boothe said he wouldn’t attempt to guess how a possible repeal may impact students but that his “personal intent is to protect students in every way we possibly can.”

The public will have a chance to speak on the matter Friday at 8:30 a.m.

The meeting will be held at the Utah State Board of Education Building Board Room, at 250 E. 500 South in Salt Lake City. The meeting will also be streamed online. Those who wish to comment virtually should email andrea.curtin@schools.utah.gov before the meeting.