Ray Carter | November 30, 2021
Lawmaker wants teacher-training materials made public
In response to growing parental concern over the use of Critical Race Theory in public-school classrooms, one state lawmaker wants Oklahoma schools to publicly post their teacher-training materials.
“Parents have the right to know about the ongoing training of their local teachers as well as what curriculums districts are asking educators to teach,” said Sen. David Bullard, a Durant Republican and former public-school teacher. “Taxpayers fund our education system, so this information should be readily available to improve accountability and transparency in Oklahoma schools.”
Senate Bill 1125, by Bullard, would require a school district to “post on its website the professional development materials to be used by teachers employed by the district for each school year.” The legislation allows schools to fulfill that requirement by posting links to the professional development materials or resources, titles of materials or resources, or the materials or resources themselves.
During the 2021 session, Bullard authored House Bill 1775, which was signed into law and banned the teaching of several concepts associated with Marxist-derived Critical Race Theory in Oklahoma public schools. Among other things, that law bans teaching children that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex” or that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.” It also makes it illegal to teach that an individual “should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex.”
Bullard said SB 1125 will help protect teachers from being pressured to embrace Critical Race Theory or similar ideological materials.
“In recent years, it’s come to the Legislature’s attention that some districts are pushing inappropriate agendas, like Critical Race Theory, that parents and other taxpayers are vehemently opposed to,” Bullard said. “Teachers should not be forced to teach such theories, but out of fear for their jobs, they do what they’re told. Requiring the publishing of professional development materials will ensure teachers are being properly trained, but also protected, along with their students, from improper agendas and that parents and the public know exactly what’s being required of educators.”
Is It a Problem in Oklahoma?
Some education officials have responded to passage of HB 1775 by denying that Critical Race Theory is incorporated into any public-school settings in Oklahoma.
For example, Oklahoma State School Boards Association associate executive director Joe Siano declared that HB 1775 was “a solution looking for a problem” in a Nov. 27 tweet.
“Public schools are not teaching critical race theory,” Siano wrote. “Equity, tolerance and the celebration of diversity in our communities is imperative.”
However, teaching apparently derived from the tenets of Critical Race Theory was reported in Norman Public Schools in October 2016 while Siano was superintendent of that district. Oklahoma City’s NBC affiliate KFOR reported that an audio recording made by a Norman student revealed a teacher told the class, “To be white is to be racist, period.”
In a statement provided to KFOR, Siano said the teacher was “attempting to convey to students in an elective philosophy course a perspective that had been shared at a university lecture he had attended,” and said the “discussion was poorly handled.”
That isn’t the only such instance at Norman Public Schools, and one recent example involved the teacher trainings addressed by Bullard’s legislation.
Earlier this year during a professional development training at Norman Public Schools, teachers were told to “identify how I may unknowingly benefit from Racism.” Norman teachers were also told that “equity literate educators” should “cultivate in students the ability to analyze bias and inequity in classroom materials, classroom interactions, and school policies” and “teach about sexism, poverty, racism, ableism, transphobia, and heterosexism.” During another portion of the training, Norman teachers were told that to be an “ally” required them to “directly challenge institutionalized racism, colonization, and white supremacy by blocking or impeding racist people, policies, and structures.”
Similar training materials have been found at other Oklahoma districts.
During a recent professional-development training, Tulsa Public Schools teachers were told to shift their classroom focus to “privilege and oppression.” The website of the vendor providing that training, the National Equity Project, says officials should “acknowledge and make meaning of the historical and ongoing impacts of racism and white supremacy.” The project’s statement of beliefs also declares that public systems, including public schools, “maintain inequity by design” and that inequity was “not created by accident.”
In 2020, another training program at Tulsa Public Schools advised teachers to incorporate “social justice” into all courses, including subjects such as physical education and math.
“Challenging systems of oppression and teaching through a social justice lens can and should be done in all subjects, not just social studies,” the training program advised educators.
The website of Jenks Public Schools Southeast Elementary recently included “social emotional learning” (SEL) materials that proclaimed SEL allows teachers to “address privilege, prejudice, discrimination, social justice, and self-determination in K-12 settings.”
The Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), the state’s largest teachers union, has also provided programs for teachers that align with Critical Race Theory. (The OEA programs are generally offered outside of mandatory school trainings.)
Videos posted from the OEA’s Oklahoma Aspiring Educators Association’s Racial and Social Justice Symposium earlier this year showed that teachers-in-training were told the presence of many white teachers in the profession is a problem that has “embedded this deep layer of implicit bias” in public schools, that teachers who don’t embrace “antiracism” need to “get out of the profession” because otherwise they are continuing to “perpetuate white supremacy and inflict harm on students of color,” and that current academic “standards of achievement are inherently racist.”
While officials like Siano have said Critical Race Theory is not part of Oklahoma public-school instruction, other education officials have indicated otherwise, arguing that HB 1775’s ban on teaching concepts associated with Critical Race Theory forces educators to revise their instruction.
Regan Killackey, an English teacher at Edmond Memorial High School, was among a group of plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit in federal court to challenge HB 1775. By banning the teaching of various concepts, the lawsuit argued that Killackey is “no longer able to lead appropriate educational classroom discussions on topics related to race, sex, and gender.” The lawsuit claimed HB 1775 has “chilled and censored speech that strikes at the heart of public education and the nation’s democratic institutions.”
The Zinn Education Project has urged teachers to sign a pledge to ignore HB 1775-style laws. The webpage for the pledge declares that “the major institutions and systems of our country are deeply infected with anti-Blackness and its intersection with other forms of oppression.”
The signatories of the anti-HB 1775 pledge on the Zinn site include Summer Boismier of Piedmont, who served on the writing committee that developed the 2020-2021 Oklahoma Academic Standards for English Language Arts; Tyrell Albin, an English teacher in the Lawton school district; Lawton teacher Jennie Hanna; Shawnee teacher Zach Dewoody; and other self-identified educators from Owasso, Oklahoma City, Duncan, Cache, McAlester, Norman, Park Hill, Broken Arrow, Tulsa, and Edmond.
Currently, school districts are required to offer professional development programs for certified teachers and administrators. Program recommendations come from district-appointed professional development committees, which consist of classroom teachers, administrators, school counselors or licensed mental health providers, and parents, guardians, or custodians of students.
While some education officials defend the use of Critical Race Theory in the classroom and others argue it does not exist in Oklahoma schools, still other teachers have quietly opposed Critical Race Theory and have even been the source for some leaked materials from Oklahoma school trainings.
Bullard said SB 1125 benefits teachers who do not want to embrace Critical Race Theory or similar worldviews.
“My fellow teachers do not deserve to be forced into training that is inappropriate or violates their conscience, and yet it happens every year in Oklahoma,” Bullard said. “What training a teacher receives will find its way into the classroom, so it’s imperative that the professional development materials be shared publicly.”
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.