Ray Carter | May 17, 2022
Teachers’ union tacitly admits CRT is in Oklahoma schools
When House Bill 1775 became law in 2021, banning the teaching of certain concepts broadly associated with Critical Race Theory (CRT), opponents claimed CRT was not taught in Oklahoma schools.
Critics continue to make that claim today. But a recent request from the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), the state’s largest teachers’ union, indicates that union leaders believe CRT is being incorporated into Oklahoma school settings.
House Bill 1775 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.”
Opponents dismissed the law as unnecessary.
Rep. Jacob Rosecrants, a Norman Democrat and former teacher, raised that criticism again in a recent TV news interview. Rosecrants stated, “CRT is not something taught in our K-12 schools,” and said the issue “literally was made up.”
But when the Oklahoma State Department of Education solicited public comment during the agency’s permanent rulemaking process for HB 1775, the Oklahoma Education Association asked the agency to provide safeguards for teachers who are ordered to incorporate CRT into the classroom setting.
Heath Merchen submitted a comment on Feb. 1, saying he was “writing on behalf of the Oklahoma Education Association to propose an addition” to the agency’s HB 1775 regulations “for the purpose of protecting teachers from litigation that may follow implementation of the rule if School Districts are non-compliant and require teachers to instruct in a manner that could violate the standard.”
Merchen said the OEA wanted the HB 1775 regulations to include language stating, “No individual teacher or school employee shall be found in violation of this provision, or face any form of discipline, retaliation, or other adverse consequence due to an alleged violation of this provision if the teacher or school employee is teaching the curriculum approved by their employing school district, notwithstanding that the employing school district may be found to have violated this provision.”
Merchen’s LinkedIn page identifies him as an attorney for the OEA, and the comment was submitted from an OEA email account.
State Rep. Kevin West, a Moore Republican who was House author of HB 1775, is not surprised.
“Obviously, this is what we said right at the very beginning,” West said. “We know that this is happening and, absolutely, I’ve had a bunch of contacts from parents all over the state.”
West said he has also been contacted by teachers who thanked him for working to ban CRT from the classroom “because they were seeing that inch into different subject matters.”
While opponents of HB 1775 have claimed the law prevents teachers from providing instruction on accurate history, a guide released by the National Education Association, of which OEA is a state affiliate, admitted that is not the case.
The “Know your rights” guide released by the NEA and OEA acknowledged, “The laws enacted to date generally do not prohibit teaching the full sweep of U.S. history, including teaching about nearly 250 years of slavery, the Civil War, the Reconstruction period, or the violent white supremacy that brought Reconstruction to an end and has persisted in one or another form ever since.”
The NEA/OEA guide informed Oklahoma teachers that HB 1775 “does not prevent the teaching of history and social studies or any other subject matter area that is in compliance with the Oklahoma Academic Standards,” and noted state standards mandate the teaching of a wide range of events related to racial issues.
Even so, OEA officials have previously criticized HB 1775 and OEA programming has embraced many concepts loosely associated with CRT.
Notably, former OEA president Alicia Priest was among those who criticized HB 1775 as part of a June 2021 panel.
In August 2021, the Oklahoma Aspiring Educators Association, an affiliate of the OEA, hosted a symposium where speakers informed teachers-to-be that “white supremacy culture practices” include “worship of the written word,” “individualism,” and “objectivity,” and were told that the “pillars of white fragility” include being “taught to see themselves as individuals rather than as part of a racially socializing group.”
The OEA’s website has also included material on “Racial and Social Justice” that often aligns with CRT tenets.
West said the continuing vocal opposition to HB 1775 is the surest sign that CRT has seeped into Oklahoma’s public schools.
“I think the biggest tell is how hard they’ve been fighting this every step of the way,” West said. “If you’re talking about making something illegal and you’re not doing it, then you’re like, ‘Okay, no big deal.’ But just the fact that they’re fighting it so hard tells me that they are, in fact, doing this.”
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.