After one school board candidate recently said publicly that Critical Race Theory is one of the top 'challenges' facing MUSD, the Times asked all the candidates some questions about their beliefs about CRT. Five of the eight candidates running for two open seats responded. Their answers are below.
Over the past few days, the issue of whether or not the theory called Critical Race Theory is being taught, or should or should not be taught, in Mammoth Unified School District has popped up in Mammoth, triggered mostly by a letter to the editor sent to The Sheet last week and to the Mammoth Times (see p. 6) by a MUSD school board candidate, Cindie Wormhoudt, who said after thinking more on it, she would change her answer given during a previous Mammoth Voices Candidate Forum and put this topic as one of her three top ‘challenges’ facing MUSD.
CRT is defined by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as “a group of concepts (such as the idea that race is a sociological rather than biological designation, and that racism pervades society and is fostered and perpetuated by the legal system) used for examining the relationship between race and the laws and legal institutions of a country and especially the United States.”
Because CRT has become such a political and charged subject, the Times spoke to MUSD Interim Superintendent Fred Navarro Tuesday to ask him what the district’s policy was on CRT, if there is one, and on the same day, the Times invited all the eight school board candidates to weigh in via email and within our print deadline, which is Wednesday afternoon. Nice candidates responded (see below) and three, Gloria Diaz, Marty Thompson and Jeff Ronci, did not respond.
“The candidate who submitted the communication to The Sheet was originally right to take Critical Race Theory off of her top three issues to pursue if elected to a seat on the MUSD Board of Education,” Navarro said. “If elected, she will have no issue regarding Critical Race Theory (CRT) as this topic is not in any adopted K-12 California curricula. CRT is taught in some law schools. If CRT were to be brought up in a class by a student, it would be addressed as prescribed by Board Policy 6144, Controversial Issues. Controversial issues, such as CRT, may come up in classrooms from time to time. However, since such topics are not a part of our state approved curriculum, it must be addressed in class as a controversial subject.”
The Times then asked all the school board candidates these six questions regarding CRT:
1) What is CRC?
2) Should it be taught at a grade-school level? Why or why not?
3) Is it being taught at MUSD?
4) Is some ‘equivalent’ of CRC being taught at MUSD? If so, what does it look like and how do you know this? Be specific.
5) If you believe it is being taught, then when did it start being taught? In other words, under which school board and/or administration did this start? How is what is now being taught different from the days before CRC was taught? Be specific.
6) If you believe it is being taught and you do not agree it should be, what is your plan to stop it from being taught? Be specific.
Here are the school board candidate answers:
JOHN STAVLO: 1) What I know about CRT is what I hear on the news and by doing research. First, it is a social movement and supposedly an intellectual movement based on the premise that race is not a natural or biologically grounded feature but is a socially constructed category that is used to oppress and exploit people of color. The theory teaches that racism is inherent in the law and legal institutions of the U.S. Furthermore, some of those K-12 schools that teach CRT teach that there is an entitled and protected class of people and an oppressed class of people. The entitled class of people are “whites” and the oppressed are minorities and mainly African Americans. Seven states have already banned the teaching of CRT in public K-12 and another 16 states are in the process of drafting legislation to ban these teachings.
2) No, it should not be taught at the grade school level. First, it is only a theory. Second, our children and grandchildren have had nothing to do with America’s previous history and the sins of its past. They came into this world with no choice of who their parents would be, their social status, economic status, or their color. To teach that one child is entitled while another is oppressed is very divisive. It leads to one child to feel guilty about themselves because they are entitled and another child feeling that they are being mistreated because they are in the oppressed group. Also, we have a major learning deficit in our children due to the pandemic shut down and remote learning. We should be focusing all our energies on recovering from these learning deficits. It is my objective to ensure that all our children are proficient in a basic education. It is the best gift we can give our children and will serve them well throughout the rest of their lives.
3) I do not know. I have heard from some parents and a former Board member that some CRT is now being taught in our K-12 school. I have not been able to verify this independently at this point.
4) I do not know.
5) Again, I do not know. I served on the Board until November of 2020. At that time, we were purely focused on how to teach children during the pandemic shutdowns and remote learning. If CRT was being taught in the classroom at this time, I was not aware of it.
6) The School Board has the authority, except for items specifically mandated by the state, to review and approve all textbooks, teaching materials, videos shown, lesson plans, etc. As a member of the School Board, I will review all of the above listed items. My findings will be brought before the Board, and I will work with the Board to take any action required. My findings will also be presented to the public in a presentation at a School Board meeting. I also encourage parents to contact me personally with any information or concerns that they have regarding this matter. Also, it should be noted that parents have the right to review all instructional materials that are being used to teach their children. This right is based in the U.S. code, 1232h- Protection of pupil rights. It states “All Instructional materials, including teacher’s manuals, films, tapes, or other supplementary materials ……. shall be available for inspection by the parents or guardians of the children.” I suggest that parents do so. Parental involvement in this matter is critical.
AMANDA PELHAM: 1) CRT, or Critical Race Theory, is an antiquated and politically charged term that in recent history has been more commonly referred to by the California State Board of Education (SBE) as ethnic studies, as outlined in the many drafts of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (model curriculum). As noted in the California State Board of Education Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, CRT is the practice of examining race and racism and how it is codified in law, embedded in structures, and woven into public policy.
2) CRT, or what is now referred to as ethnic studies, has primarily been taught in California at the college/university and high school levels of education and I believe this is an appropriate age and grade level for this type of curriculum. The CA SBE's Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum has been developed for educators teaching at the high school level, and the state has left it up to each district to collaborate with all parties - students, parents, teachers, administrators, and community members - to decide what's best for each individual district.
3) As the CA SBE sets the foundational curriculum for all schools and districts in the state, the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum should be considered, and incorporated as appropriate into the high school level of Mammoth Unified School District (MUSD). In discussing the topic recently with family and friends who teach at various grade levels in California, the SBE has given a lot of wiggle room to each district since the model curriculum was approved in early 2021, and each district has been given the ability to choose how this curriculum fits into current practice. The model curriculum, while voluntary for districts to adopt, is intended to establish ethnic studies courses offered as electives in high school across California.
4) I am not aware of some 'equivalent' of CRT or ethnic studies being taught at MUSD currently. Once elected to the MUSD Board of Education I look forward to gathering information, obtaining feedback, and researching how this topic fits into our current and future curriculum by speaking with students, parents, and teachers; at that time I'll be in a better position to answer questions related to this topic professionally, thoughtfully, and backed with substantive facts about how this subject is being incorporated at MUSD. This topic is just one element of our children's high school education and I am committed to maintaining collaborative focus on the entire K-12 curriculum at MUSD.
5) As stated above, I do not believe some 'equivalent' of CRT or ethnic studies is currently being taught at MUSD, and as the parent of two Mammoth Elementary School students, I am not familiar with current high school level curriculum or syllabi. Once elected, I will be committed to understanding the current K-12 curriculum, the process for its development and progression, and be a contributing member to its success and evolvement moving forward.
6) I do not believe some 'equivalent' of CRT or ethnic studies is currently being taught at MUSD, nor am I in a position to state that any topic should be off the table when it comes to the education of our community's children. To quote an 87-year old Michelangelo in the midst of working on St. Peter's Basilica: "I am still learning (Ancora Imparo)."Trying to hone in or hold on to one controversial topic and make it the focus takes away from the reason I am running for the school board - to be informed, make collaborative decisions, and be a part of a cohesive team that sets my children and all the students in our district up for success as future contributing members of society.
BECKY DAVIS: From what I understand, Critical Race Theory is a framework for graduate studies that looks at racial bias in government and laws. I do not believe that CRT is taught in any MUSD classes because it’s graduate-level work. When we teach American History, we include slavery and civil rights as chapters in our history. We learn from the bad and good.
We need to focus on the educational access and opportunities of all our students. Let’s have empathy. Many of our students have been struggling emotionally and academically since the pandemic. We need to stay focused on bringing them up to grade level. We need to be laser-focused and not take time away from that goal. That goal is reading, writing, math and science.
I would say to parents, know what your child is learning and be engaged with the schools. If you have questions, please email your child’s teacher with your questions, or better yet, ask when you would be able to see them and make an appointment. Please don’t wait until you are boiling over with frustration. Talk to them as soon as possible. We have a great district and community. We can do this.
CHELSEA NASH: 1) On a basic level, the core idea of CRT is that race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems, institutions and policies resulting in social, economic and political inequalities.
2) I believe teaching an accurate chronicle of history is important. Understanding our past and learning from it is essential in creating a more compassionate, empathetic and informed society which is less likely to repeat the mistakes of the past. Children should be taught about the history of the Civil War, Trail of Tears, Native American history and displacement, Slavery, Jim Crow Laws, the Underground Railroad, the Civil Rights Movement, Segregation, Brown vs Board of Education, Rosa Parks, Emmitt Till, Martin Luther King Jr, race riots, WW1, WW2, the Holocaust, Manzanar and Japanese Internment, and the list goes on and on. These events and figures in history have shaped our past, our present, and should not be overlooked or glossed over.
Having said that, children should never be taught that they are responsible for the past or that any racial group as a whole are oppressors or oppressed, overtly responsible for all wrongs in our society, or guilty, based on historical or current inequalities and injustices in our society. These tenets of CRT are inappropriate and have no place in classrooms. Approaching difficult subjects and events with compassion and sensitivity is essential.
3) I think that depends on your understanding of CRT. I’m unaware of any specific CRT teachings or curriculum. History is taught and discussions are held to understand specific events, wars, movements, roles of individuals, etc. Current events are also discussed, as are the various impacts on our society.
It’s important to differentiate and not to confuse teaching an accurate portrayal of historical events, historical lessons of immense value, and discussing present day events in our country with the teachings of CRT, which has different objectives, methodologies and outcome goals.
Since I’m unaware of any specific CRT curriculum, I’m unable to appropriately answer the remaining questions. If parents are aware of specific CRT teachings, I’d be interested to learn what concepts are being discussed, how discussions are being led and moderated, how students and parents feel about these discussions, and any concerns from parents or students. I am opposed to any teaching methods which damage, demoralize or attack any group (children or otherwise). I believe relevant discussions can absolutely be had and important lessons can absolutely be taught without degradation, condemnation, prejudice or disrespect.
CINDIE WORMHOUDT: 1) CRT is Critical Race Theory, which is basically looking at American History through the lens of racism and applying those actions and standards to today. It is the belief that America is systemically racist and that all white people are oppressors and people of color are oppressed or "victims".
2) I don't believe that this "theory" should be taught in grade school. At a time when children are learning the fundamentals of education, and the ability to learn how to get along with their classmates by accepting and embracing differences, the last thing they need to be told is that they are either victims or oppressors. If it is taught at all, it should be that it is recognized as a theory of some and taught as such at higher levels in high school. It can be used as a great example of how to socially divide people.
3-6) To my knowledge CRT is not being taught at any MUSD schools. I taught Special education for almost 20 years and I certainly did not teach this to my students. I also never saw any curriculum addressing the theory. IF, it is taught, I believe it would be done individually by teachers choosing to do so independently.