Ray Carter | March 17, 2022
Teachers object to anti-CRT law
In recent public comments, self-identified educators from across Oklahoma have vocally objected to a new law that bans teaching certain concepts broadly associated with Critical Race Theory (CRT).
Those objections were voiced through written comments on the administrative rules for House Bill 1775, a measure passed last year that made it illegal to teach Oklahoma students 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.”
The legislation also banned teaching that “an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex,” or teaching students that “meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist or were created by members of a particular race to oppress members of another race.”
During the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s administrative rulemaking process, which will guide implementation and enforcement of the HB 1775 law, dozens of current-and-former educators, as well as other school officials, objected to the law and its prohibitions.
Those opposed to HB 1775’s provisions included teachers from across the state, including officials from rural areas such as Clinton and Calera.
Jesse Curtis, an educator from Calera, wrote that teachers should be allowed to tell students, “If you want to know how all narratives have had an effect on society then you would study CRT but it’s against the law.”
Luke Adam, a school board member in Clinton, decried HB 1775 as “yet another bill passed into law with no reason for its passage other than for some type of political gain. It is pointless.”
Ann E. West, a retired educator from Tahlequah, said the law and associated regulations “create situations in which teachers would face unwarranted scrutiny and pressure to modify their curricula” and that teachers “will be under constant threat of censure and loss of their certification.”
Numerous teachers sent in variations of a form letter that stated, “As a teacher, I want my students to have the tools they need to recognize injustice in every form, whether it is in the student handbook or in our criminal legal system.” The form letter also declared, “Bans on ‘divisive’ concepts silence the voices of Black and Brown people, women and girls, and 2SLGBTQ+ people.”
The self-identified teachers who sent versions of the form letter included Marc DiPaolo, Marvin Cooke, Lisa Lewis, Gerrit Cuperus, Janet D’Imperio, Gala Miller, Janet Largent, Marilyn Bedford (retired), Ryan Querbach, Jennifer Ingram, Sidney Barton, Amy Lounsbery, Adrienne Turner, Lauren Ice and Stacey Blue.
Lewis’ version of the form letter included additional comments, declaring, “The efforts to assassinate the characters and risk the professional reputations and even the job security of instructors who don't toe the right-wing line have been ongoing for many years already, and they are deeply anti-educational, anti-truth, and anti-young person.”
Shai Fenwick, a K-12 educator, said HB 1775 “unnecessarily complicates teaching.”
“Most current education works to dismantle historic results of slavery, Native American genocide, and misogyny,” Fenwick said. “This law instead works to have a chilling effect on those efforts.”
She added, “Teachers and parents of color have no intention of continuing to be lied to and turned out to die in classrooms of people who protect historic racism.”
Christina McDougall, an employee of Mid-Del Schools, called HB 1775 “a threat to school staff’s First Amendment rights” that would have a “chilling effect on the discussion of race, sex and discrimination.”
McDougall also wrote that HB 1775’s prohibition on teaching that an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously, would cause “significant harm to public schooling.”
Patrick Terry, a social studies educator, declared HB 1775’s provisions to be “dangerous,” and said its prohibitions bring “the culture wars into the classrooms and makes people who have decided to take on the ungrateful job of being a teacher in Oklahoma determine whether they can teach reality and difficult history or give the sugar coated version of history that this vague legislation and its authors want.”
“This legislation is only meant to threaten teachers and appease politicians hell-bent on whitewashing our history,” Terry said.
Shauna Evans, who teaches biology and physics at Moore High School, wrote that she “totally” disagrees “with HB 1775 and the attempts to censure history. Students need to know the truth about the history of this country. I also object to the idea that parents will be able to file complaints against educators for teaching the truth.”
Emily Beers, a special education principal, wrote that HB 1775 “has the potential to completely dismantle our current education system.”
“The most concerning part of this legislation is Section E, which grants parents the right to ‘inspect curriculum, instructional materials, classroom assignments, and lesson plans to ensure compliance,’” Beers wrote. “As if legislators in this state haven’t done enough already to make high quality teachers leave our great state, this rule change would task them with answering to every parent’s whim and demand with regard to what and how they are teaching. Not only is this absolutely unsustainable in any real sense whatsoever, but it will be the literal straw that breaks the camel’s back.”
Emily Spivey of Norman, a self-identified educator, wrote that HB 1775 “gives too much control to parents who already may ask for their child to be excused from activities that go against their personal and religious beliefs.”
Anna Lenardson, a history teacher, said she fears that HB 1775 “will expose me to constant scrutiny.”
Tyler Wrynn also wrote that teachers “will face unwarranted scrutiny and pressure to modify their curricula” and that HB 1775 “will cause the resignation of Oklahoma’s best teachers.”
David Paulson, a middle school social studies teacher in Oklahoma City, wrote, “Our students deserve to learn a truthful history with information that is relevant to the issues of modern society. If we censor information in classrooms then we are purposefully creating adults with gaps in their knowledge.”
Pat Meyer, a former teacher, wrote, “For a state that professes limited government and individual rights, it is appalling how state government wants to control the minds and bodies of all the citizens of Oklahoma.”
Elaine Warner, a former teacher, wrote, “It’s nonsense like this – among other things – that is driving young people away from the teaching profession and causing those presently teaching to give up a job they loved but now feel is disrespected.”
Angie Reap, a retired Oklahoma high school biology educator, wrote that “limiting students to a biased, white, patriarchal view of history is damaging not only to the student, who is hopefully being taught to critically think, but also to society as a whole …”
Suzette McDowell, a retired teacher, wrote, “I think the rules regarding punishment for non- compliance are threatening and could result in many teachers choosing to go elsewhere professionally or geographically.”
Trina Medley, a teacher, wrote that the Oklahoma Legislature “has overstepped its boundaries.”
“You are literally trying to censor what is said about American History in the hope that you can rewrite it to fit your version of a ‘purified’ rendering,” Medley said, adding that teachers like herself “are not going to be silenced.”
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.