Equity training is now considered discriminatory in Utah’s K-12 schools

The Utah State Board of Education met last week to amend an administrative rule that promised “educational equity” to all students. Now, it prohibits some equitable practices in public schools.

A Utah rule initially designed to ensure “educational equity” for all students now explicitly prohibits some equitable practices in K-12 public schools after it was overhauled by the state school board last week.

Previously called “Educational Equity in Schools,” administrative rule R277-328 had reinforced federal protections for students and educators by mandating that schools provide staff with equity training.

Now, under its new name “Equal Opportunity in Education,” the version that was revised by the Utah State Board of Education on Thursday goes in the opposite direction. It prohibits any training or practices related to diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI. It’s meant to align with the state’s latest efforts to limit DEI initiatives in public education and government.

The changes come months after three board members had attempted to repeal the rule, asserting that it conflicted with another Utah law. The repeal request sparked hundreds of emails and phone calls to board members urging them to keep R277-328 intact.

Following hours of public comment over three board meetings, the repeal failed to get board approval. In part, some board members said, because they’d never seen such strong public opposition before. The board ultimately voted to amend the rule instead of repealing it.

But the amended version removes protections for underserved students that were previously in place, said Darlene McDonald, a national committee member for the Utah Democratic Party who ran for Congress last year. She’s been outspoken about keeping the rule since its repeal was first proposed.

“In one night, members of the Utah State Board of Education eradicated months of hard work provided by the community,” McDonald said. “[The rule] is no longer worth defending.”

The amended rule also expands existing prohibitions on the teaching of critical race theory-related concepts, taking language directly from HB261, an anti-DEI bill signed into law last week.

“The new administrative rule is simply a copy and paste of HB261, which strays from its original intent and does nothing to protect students, educators or [schools],” McDonald said.

What is different?

The modified rule omits all prior language considering students’ diverse backgrounds and lived experiences as factors that may affect their ability to access an equal education. It also prohibits “educational equity” training for educators, which would instruct teachers how to implement practices addressing student inequities.

[Read the original rule below. Story continues after document.]

It now requires “equal opportunity in education” training, defined as “acknowledging that all students are capable of learning and may need additional guidance, resources, and support based on their academic needs.”

That also means: fostering a safe learning environment that is “free from unnecessary distractions,” recognizing students’ constitutionally protected rights and developing strategies for “politically neutral” examination of various viewpoints and topics.

“Inclusion,” which was previously defined as “the practice of ensuring students feel a sense of belonging and support” — including students with disabilities spending as much time in general education classes as possible — has also been modified.

It now means “ensuring that students are accepted and valued as members of the school community with equal opportunities to contribute by creating conditions for meaningful participation, including students with a disability.”

The revised rule includes language from HB261 concerning prohibitions “on certain discriminatory practices,” which defines programs that contain the words “diversity, equity, or inclusion” as discriminatory.

It also prohibits any practices that say an individual, “by virtue of the individual’s personal identity characteristics, is inherently privileged, oppressed, racist, sexist, oppressive, or a victim, whether consciously or unconsciously,” among other bans.

[Read the new rule below. Story continues after document.]

Why is ‘educational equity’ controversial?

Board members passed the equity rule in 2021 after intense deliberation and debate among members and the public. At the time, opponents feared the rules were a “backdoor” to teaching critical race theory, the graduate-level concept which considers racism to be systemic and inherent in Western society. There is no evidence critical race theory has widely been taught in Utah’s K-12 schools.

Still, some board members have asserted the rule was being used to discriminate.

“[The rule] has been used all over the state as a permission slip, basically, to institute discriminatory practices and programs,” board member Natalie Cline argued during a January meeting. “It actually is used to tip the scales in favor of certain groups and it puts equity over merit and personal responsibility.”

Even before the revisions, though, the rule prohibited teaching concepts that would position students or teachers as inherently racist due to their skin color.

Could the rule still be eliminated?

Prior to last week’s revisions, state Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, introduced SB136, which would reauthorize all administrative rules across the state, except R227-328.

School board member Sarah Reale said she was frustrated by the bill, calling it an attempt to “usurp” the board’s authority.

“It’s an overreach, but also a really icky way of using their power,” Reale said. “Let us do our work. Let the State Board of Education serve in the capacity that we have been [elected] to do.”

It is not clear if Bramble will amend his proposed bill now that R227-328 has been revised. He is currently reviewing it, according to a spokesperson for the Utah Senate.