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Chandler Unified School District Board Meetings Face Heated Debate Over Critical Race theory

After a ruling from the Arizona Supreme Court, Chandler Unified School District's public comment centers critical race theory.

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(Image Source: ABC15 Arizona)

A November ruling from the Arizona Supreme Court has resulted in heated debates at Chandler Unified School District’s (CUSD) recent governing board meetings, where a number of parents have taken to the podium to provide their opinions on critical race theory.

An Arizona bill prohibiting the teaching of “controversial” topics was recently ruled unconstitutional. In contrast to most parents, members of the CUSD governing board have refrained from expressing their opinion on critical race theory. 

“But when they say ‘because of the legacy of racism and white supremacy’... that in itself is teaching critical race theory. It is still in our schools,” claimed Nicole Eidson at the October 27th meeting. She believes that by teaching such curriculum, teachers are insinuating that racism and white supremacy are still a part of society. 

Critical race theory – by definition – is an academic theory that analyzes the intersection of race and American law. The theory asserts that racism is not caused by individual prejudice, but rather systemic issues embedded into America’s legal system. 

“There's links like Facing History… there's also a link for an organization called Learning For Justice which has a decidedly very divisive message,” Eidson went on to say. 

These links comprise part of the CUSD social and emotional learning program, used in half of the district’s elementary schools. Although the program does provide resources for teaching regarding racism and biases, it does not relate to the concept of critical race theory.

Parent Krista McKinney reaffirmed this fact during her speech at the board’s November 10th meeting. She does not believe that critical race theory appears anywhere in the CUSD curriculum, though she hopes her children will be educated on race-related issues – “real history,” as she describes it. “Teaching about westward expansion cannot gloss over the diseases, war, genocide and broken promises that created the empty land for white pioneers,” she stated.

Prior to a November 2nd ruling by the Arizona Supreme Court, legislation passed by the state legislature essentially banned the type of teaching McKinney advocates for. House Bill 2898, now presumed unconstitutional, prohibited the teaching of content that claims that an individual may be inherently racist or bears responsibility for any past mistakes committed by someone of their race. Under this law, many teachers were wary about approaching any topics regarding race. 

Now that HB2898 is no longer effective, teachers can discuss a myriad of race-related topics with their students. McKinney concedes that it will be upsetting to anyone with empathy to learn about various horrific events, but believes they must be taught. She claims to be grateful that CUSD has “professional educators who are well qualified to design appropriate curriculum.” 

As the legislation was dismissed based on a technicality – its content did not match the title of the bill – there is no undisputed solution to this issue in sight. CUSD’s biweekly governing board meetings are likely to come with continued controversy; the next one is scheduled for December 8th.