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Anti-Critical RaceTheory measures in California schools

A national conservative movement to limit the teaching of race and racism is finding its way into California schools, leading to many worry that teachers are being muzzled.


New report from UCLA School of Law

A national conservative movement to limit the teaching of race and racism is finding its way into California schools, leading to many worry that teachers are being muzzled.

Elected officials nationwide introduced at least 563 measures to restrict teaching about race in 2021 and 2022, and 241 of those passed, according to “CRT Forward: Tracking the Attack on Critical Race Theory,” (CRT) a recently released report from the UCLA School of Law. Almost all the measures impacted K-12 education, and 70% sought to control teaching and curriculum in the classroom. The most common consequence for a breach was withholding funding.

“We are now living in a country where books and ideas can be banned in the name of freedom and censorship can be applauded as a means to combat indoctrination, and teachers can be fired for trying to teach any idea that someone deems divisive,” said Cheryl Harris, vice dean for community, equality and justice at UCLA Law during a recent webinar.

Sixty percent of the anti-CRT measures were adopted in conservative, or red states, according to LaToya Baldwin Clark, a co-author of the report.

California remains solidly blue, but arguments over the teaching of so-called CRT can be heard in some red areas of the state.

In California Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified, Visalia Unified, Paso Robles Joint Unified, Temecula Valley Unified, Ramona Unified and Newport-Mesa Unified collectively passed seven measures restricting instruction about race. Four additional measures were introduced in California school districts but not approved.

CRT is often confused with culturally relevant teaching, according to the California School Boards Association.

“These measures purport to ban things like saying anyone should feel guilty or responsible for the past or the present, or that the United States is fundamentally racist,” Clark said.

CRT is now being used to describe anti-gender measures as well as social-emotional learning, according to the researchers.

“In the K-12 context, it’s kind of a boogeyman,” Harris said. “It’s a made-up version. Nobody is teaching this version of CRT and yet it’s all traveling under the same sort of umbrella heading.”

Conservative groups like Reform California are encouraging more school boards to ban the teaching of CRT and “to demand an honest and balanced view of U.S. history be taught to our children.”

The anti-critical race theory movement was a backlash to demands for racial justice and equality after the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in 2020, Clark said.

School officials of both Temecula Unified, in Riverside County, and Paso Robles Joint Unified, in San Luis Obispo County, used similar language as that in the executive order when they wrote measures that referred to CRT as a divisive ideology that can result in racial guilt.

The Ramona Unified School District in San Diego used much of the same language in a civic education policy its school board passed on Aug. 12, 2021. The measure prohibits schools from using curriculum or teachers from teaching that one particular race is superior or inherently racist, sexist or oppressive.

In 2021, the California Teachers Association provided guidance to its members about how to deal with politically motivated attacks on racial equity in schools, including avoiding the academic term critical race theory.

“The phrase, unfamiliar to most audiences, has been redefined by the political right as an all-purpose dog whistle. Talk instead about the more honest and more complete education our students deserve,” the guidance says.