Johnston County teachers could be disciplined or fired for teaching that historical American figures were not heroes, undermining the US Constitution in class, or saying racism is an integral part of American life.
The Johnston County Council of Commissioners is withholding $ 7.9 million until the school board passes a policy preventing critical race theory from the county’s classrooms. School leaders deny that critical race theory is taught. But to get the money, the school board unanimously approved an updated policy on how history and racism will be taught on Friday.
“When we all work together we can accomplish good things for the children, and this is one of those times that I really believe happened,” School Board Vice President Terri Sessoms said at the meeting. specially called virtual meeting Friday.
The revised Code of Ethics policy includes new wording such as “the founding documents of the United States must not be undermined” and “all those who have contributed to American society will be recognized and portrayed as reformists, innovators. and heroes of our culture â. The policy states that non-compliance “will result in disciplinary action up to and including termination.”
The new policy was denounced by April Lee, president of the Johnston County Association of Educators and a grade 8 social science teacher. She said the school system was “selling our souls to the devil for $ 7.9 million.”
âIt’s basically extortion,â Lee said in an interview. âThey hold the money hostage until they get a policy extreme enough to approve it. We should all be angry about it.
Critical race theory challenged
Fights over critical race theory and school masking have dominated school board meetings in North Carolina and nationwide. Critics of the Masking and Critical Race Theory have held several rallies outside of Johnston County School Board meetings, including one in September led by U.S. Representative Madison Cawthorn.
Critical Race Theory, according to the Department of History at UNC-Chapel Hill, is a “scientific framework that describes how race, class, gender, and sexuality organize American life.”
This view argues that systemic racism has been and continues to be a part of the nation’s history.
Schools in North Carolina have denied teaching critical breed theory. Instead, they said they were promoting equity and inclusion practices designed to help educate an increasingly diverse number of students. But critics say teachers and schools promote Marxist and anti-American values.
Republican Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson released a report in August that included complaints from parents across the state accusing teachers of trying to indoctrinate students.
Republicans at the national, state, and local levels have tried to regulate how racism and history are taught. In September, Democratic Governor Roy Cooper vetoed an anti-criticism bill on racial theory passed by Republican lawmakers that the governor said is based on “conspiratorial politics.”
Johnston’s commissioners withhold money
In Johnston County, the all-Republican Council of Commissioners told the school board in June it would withhold $ 7.9 million in funding for new schools until a policy bans critical race theory. be approved.
In July, the school board responded with revisions to the code of ethics policy saying that “teachers and other employees of the school system will not use any methods or materials that create divisions or promote animosity among students, staff and the community â.
The updated July policy also stated that “staff should not teach students social theories outside North Carolina standards of any kind.”
But those changes were not enough to satisfy Commissioners, leading to the revisions approved on Friday. The vote comes as school board members plan to attend Monday’s council of commissioners meeting to claim the money withheld.
School board president Todd Sutton has asked Superintendent Eric Bracy to ensure that commissioners receive copies of the updated board policy before Monday’s meeting.
âI hope each of you will take the time to show your support for the Johnston County School Board as we go there and I hope they will approve us for our total amount of $ 79.9 million. dollars, as we requested in our budget for this year, âSutton told fellow board members after the vote.
The teacher cannot undermine historical documents
A repeated refrain from critics at school board meetings is that an overly negative view is taught about the nation’s history. Complaints have been filed about how teachers can cite The New York Times Project 1619, which speaks of the central role slavery played in the formation of the nation.
Johnston’s new policy tells teachers not to undermine core documents, including the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
âEveryone deserves full credit and recognition for their struggles and accomplishments throughout United States history,â the policy states. âThe founding documents of the United States must not be undermined.
“No employee of the Johnston County Schools will attempt to discredit the efforts of all those using foundational documents for reform.”
The policy also addresses the sensitive subject of how to teach historical figures.
“All those who have contributed to American society will be recognized and portrayed as reformists, innovators and heroes of our culture,” according to the policy.
Lee asked how she would be supposed to teach figures such as President Andrew Jackson, who forcibly displaced Native Americans on reservations.
New rules on teaching about the breed
The policy responds to some people’s complaint that students are taught concepts such as “white privilege,” which is the belief that whites have an unfair advantage over others because of their race.
“No student or staff member will be subjected to the idea that racism is a lifelong feature of American life,” according to the policy. âNo unequal value should be attributed to any race, sex, religion, ethnicity, social class or any other identity group. “
Lee says the new wording overlooks the racism people of color have experienced and continue to experience.
Teach students to act within the law
The policy says that “teachers will instruct and educate students on legal policies and courses of action.” The policy also states that its purpose “is to foster positive relationships between our students and local government entities that provide services to their community.”
âAny group that encourages students to act outside the law, puts that relationship at risk and is not productive for the goal of social responsibility,â the policy says.
School board member Ronald Johnson, who had been pushing for the changes, said the updated policy had been reviewed by teachers, administrators and law enforcement officials. Johnson is a Smithfield Police Detective.
The wording comes after the Black Lives Matter protests that followed the deaths of George Floyd and other black people at the hands of white police officers. Some parents have complained at school board meetings across the state about schools promoting Black Lives Matters.
Lee says the policy limits teachers’ ability to speak out about civil disobedience, like what was used during the civil rights movement.
âYes, we should be teaching kids the legal ways to enact change,â Lee said. “But we also have to recognize that sometimes these legal means were not always used because they were not the only means to create change in society.”
Impact of the new policy
Many of the items approved on Friday were included in house rules adopted by district administrators in September. But now they’re officially part of board policy.
Lee said she will not change the way she teaches because of the new policy. But she says it could cause the public to target teachers, causing some to change what they do to protect their work.
âI think it opens the door for people to question what the real story is and why we teach parts of it if they don’t agree or have a different perspective,â Lee said.
Johnston is the seventh largest school district in North Carolina, with more than 37,000 students.
This story was originally published October 1, 2021 at 12:06 pm.