Equity guidance for Utah teachers gets tangled up in critical race theory

State School Board guidelines would prohibit teaching that indicates one race is superior or inferior to others

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Monica Wilbur expresses her opposition to critical race theory at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City on May 19, 2021. Crowding around her are people who agree with her and people who don't.

A Utah State School Board committee on Thursday is set to approve standards for curriculum and professional training for teachers.

The curriculum and training concepts being discussed? Inclusion and educational equity.

Equity, which means ensuring all students get the support needed to be successful, has been a hot topic in recent months. Some parents fear it’s a backdoor to the teaching of critical race theory in Utah schools.

Critical race theory asserts racism is linked to the history of the United States. The theory has been a recent source of outrage for many on the political right, though it is not currently taught in Utah’s schools.

“I’m highly concerned with the propagation of so-called anti-racism, some call it critical race theory, in schools across Utah,” said Park City parent Andrew Mount during a virtual meeting earlier this month. “This toxic ideology may seem foreign, but it isn’t. It’s here masquerading as virtue, hiding behind words like diversity, equity and inclusion.”

The fear of critical race theory manifested itself at the highest levels of Utah’s government as Republicans in the Utah House and Senate approved parallel resolutions last week tasking the state school board with developing curriculum standards that do not favor one race over another.

Education officials are heeding the complaints about critical race theory as they consider new rules for equity in the state’s classrooms. The committee is expected to approve proposed rules for classroom instruction and professional training on equity on Thursday.

The guidelines will lift up a curriculum that fosters an environment that’s respectful of everyone while recognizing differences and diverse cultures. It further stipulates that any curriculum that says one race, religion or gender is superior or inferior to another is strictly forbidden. It also addresses slavery and other historical events in a roundabout way, blocking teaching that makes a student or educator feel responsibility for the past actions of individuals from the same race, sex or religion.

The language in the proposed rule mirrors much of what lawmakers approved last week.

The Thursday meeting will be online only because of social distancing rules due to the pandemic. There will be no verbal public comment period during Thursday’s meeting. The full Board of Education will consider the rule at its June 3 meeting. If it passes, it then goes to local education authorities for implementation.