Opponents to critical race theory in public schools aren’t just pushing policy changes. Some are going after Black elected officials and community leaders for supporting equity in public education.
The Chandler Unified School District, in the southeastern section of the Phoenix metropolitan area, is among the latest districts caught in the middle of the battle over critical race theory. Whipped up into a frenzy, “concerned” citizens and parents submitted comments objecting to critical race theory ahead of a board meeting Thursday.
The Arizona Mirror chronicled the right-wing influence running through both the anti-mask and critical race theory opposition across several school districts. Led by Steven Tyler Daniels, a member of the Patriot Party and the Purple for Parents group, school districts in the surrounding area have been under siege with hype about a made-up problem.
Like every other K-12 school in the country, Chandler has no plans of adopting critical race theory as a curriculum framework. The board included a clarifying statement of that fact in the notice for the Thursday meeting.
And yet, public comments still went far beyond the realm of reason, claiming that a request to attend a conference by school board member Lindsay Love was the district adopting critical race theory.
The first Black woman to serve on the board, Love did not plan to attend a critical race theory conference in her official capacity. Instead, she submitted a request to attend the Council of Urban Boards of Education’s annual conference in Atlanta. One of four equity councils within the National School Boards Association, the Council on Urban Boards of Education, serves boards of education in urban and “urban-like” areas.
Reading through the online comments, some people opposed the travel request based on the feeling that Chandler was not an “urban” district, despite being located primarily in the city of Chandler. For people concerned about education, one would think a glance in a dictionary could clarify the confusion over the meaning of the word urban.
In short, it means city. Just in case anyone wants to argue that Chandler is actually a suburb of Phoenix, National Geographic also includes suburbs in the definition of urban areas. But those who have been around the block a few times know that some people use “urban” as a racist dog whistle.
According to the district’s website, Chandler is one of the fastest-growing districts in the state, with an increasingly diversifying student population. Almost evenly split between white and non-white students, today’s Chandler School District is very different from the 70% white district a few decades earlier.
Other comments specifically mentioned critical race theory, with at least one person taking issue with “LGBTQ propaganda in our schools.” Not understanding the difference between the school district’s paid staff and the unpaid school board members, a commenter named Amanda complained that the school district already employed a diversity and inclusion staffer.
“If Ms. Love wishes to attend to hear from social activists, then she can do so at her own expense,” read the comment. “Taxpayers should not be paying for her to attend a conference that clearly supports a detrimental racial narrative!”
Scheduled to give keynote addresses at the conference, former NASA astronaut Mae Jemison and actor Edward James Olmos are hardly what anyone reasonable people would be concerned about.
A comment from Cassandra A. claimed that the topics at the conference were not relevant to the school and “blatantly pushing the CRT theory!” While the call for session proposals is still open for the September conference, dismantling institutional racism and equity are among the categories for presentation. Other categories include school safety, school climate, and School board/superintendent relationships.
Despite critical race theory not being on the agenda, comments continued during the meeting. Some parents supporting equity policies also spoke up to reaffirm their appreciation for the school board’s efforts.
Toward the end of the meeting, another board member took the opportunity to “both sides” the situation, blaming Love partly for the chaos around critical race theory. Citing Love’s posts on social media about her experiences, Joel Wirth blamed her for being a part of the “divide” in the district.
Love politely but firmly told Wirth to keep her name out of his mouth if that’s the narrative he’s pushing. Despite Wirth’s claims of supporting equity, he clearly lacks an equity lens to claim the Black woman being attacked and scapegoated is, in fact, the problem.
Like parents in nearby Litchfield Elementary School District, people see words like equity or anti-racist and jump to the critical race theory boogeyman. As the Editorial Advisory Board of the Leavenworth Times explained, “critical race theory has become a cudgel to use against political enemies while winking and nodding to those who believe that proper America is white as a Ku Klux Klan sheet.”
An academic framework evolving out of legal scholarship around race, racism, and the law, critical race theory has become a catchall for anything involving anti-racism and equity. While individual parents may confuse the concepts, conservative groups have acknowledged wanting to disrupt public education.
Earlier in the week, conservative groups told Fox News they actively tried to disrupt school boards across the country with anti-critical race theory propaganda. Materials included in the article contained talking points and strategy tips for disrupting school boards. A handout listed in the materials alleged concepts like equity, anti-blackness, and anti-racism were synonyms for critical race theory.
The current “backlash” in Arizona also isn’t new. As previously reported by Ed Week, the Purple for Parents group has objected to its founder views as “extreme anti-European American” bias since its founding in 2018.
Several elected officials spoke out on the attacks on Love and others, including Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman.
Arizona state Rep. Raquel Teran challenged fellow elected officials to stand against racist attacks such as those Love has been facing.
This isn’t the first time Love has been attacked. In April, the Arizona School Boards Association denounced distortions of an equity summit on a local radio program. While not named in the statement, Love confirmed in a May Facebook post that she was one of the two Black speakers targeted as a part of the opposition to critical race theory and equity.
“In addition to being simply wrong, such tactics and portrayals harm all students,” read the statement. “When concepts like equity are wrongly defined or misinterpreted, with racist intent or not, it puts up roadblocks to the school board’s essential work of building greater opportunity, access and inclusion so that every student can succeed, regardless of their culture, race, ethnicity, family income, home setting, ability, gender or any other influence or characteristic that can contribute to inequities.”
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