Ray Carter | May 10, 2022

Deer Creek schools hire pro-CRT group

Ray Carter

The Deer Creek school district has hired the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice (OCCJ) to provide up to 13 workshops whose objectives include a focus on “diversity, inclusion, implicit bias, and inclusive leadership.”

Notably, a blog post on OCCJ’s website touts Critical Race Theory (CRT) as an important “means of learning and education that acknowledges our country’s history of colonization and enslavement.” The OCCJ blog also appears to tout Marxism.

Records show one Deer Creek official involved in hiring OCCJ also serves on OCCJ’s board. Another Deer Creek official involved in the review process is now running as a Democratic candidate for statewide office.

And, although Deer Creek signed a contract with OCCJ last December that indicated the organization would provide 13 workshops, OCCJ has yet to conduct any workshop for the school.

“OCCJ was selected by the district’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee and vetted by me. The Deer Creek administrative team is working with OCCJ leadership and trainers to develop training for teachers specific to the needs of the district,” wrote Deer Creek Superintendent Jason Perez. “As our district continues to diversify, it is our objective to ensure that our teachers are prepared to meet the varied needs of all students.”

Deer Creek schools’ $4,000 contract with OCCJ was approved by the district’s board of education at its Dec. 13, 2021 board meeting and signed by Perez on Dec. 14, 2021. The contract calls for OCCJ to provide a two-hour workshop in November 2021 and 12 one-hour workshops “beginning in January 2022.”

The contract states that participants in those workshops will be taught to identify “specific strategies” to develop “equitable classrooms” and will be encouraged to identify their own “conscious and unconscious biases.”

The contract does not define what those terms mean in practice.

A July 22, 2021 blog post on the OCCJ website defends the use of Critical Race Theory as a means of education, stating that Critical Race Theory “provides a lens through which we can recognize that the United States has a long history of white supremacy and policies that benefit white people above all others.”

“Critical race theory examines the history of our society through the lens of race, noting that the United States has been based on white supremacy and racism since at least 1619, when the first enslaved people were removed from their homes and brought here to belong to owners,” the OCCJ blog states. “CRT takes a critical eye toward racism and white supremacy, which makes many people feel defensive as they claim not to be actively racist today, despite enjoying white privilege and denying benefits like reparations to Black citizens. CRT is especially important in terms of teaching accurate history to young people.”

The blog notes that Critical Theories, of which CRT is one offshoot, are “credited to Karl Marx.”

“Marx had a moral and philosophical objection to capitalism and instead promoted ideas that supported all people,” the OCCJ blog states. “Today, criticisms of Marxism center around contemporary American society’s focus on individualism, as well as capitalism, as the ‘best’ way that our society can function. Despite economic and social inequity, gun violence, and our current pandemic, many people fear the changes that would come with a shift in socioeconomic policy.”

The OCCJ blog states that several of the organization’s programs “address critical theories by seeking to interrupt the automatic consciousness that determines what is ‘right’ or the ‘truth.’ For example, both young people and adults who partake in OCCJ programs are encouraged to examine their identities, seeking examples of both privilege and lack of privilege.”

Among the programs highlighted as addressing critical theories is the OCCJ’s Inclusive Leadership Institute, which is offered as part of OCCJ’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training and consulting.

The members of the Deer Creek school’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee included 11 teachers (Sidney Barton, Bob Boone, Adriana Chaves, Amber Davis, Brandon Kiefer, Rebecca King, Kristi Kringlen, Jena Nelson, Sidney Rashidzada, Paula Reed, and Holly Sapp).

Five Deer Creek administrators also served on the Diversity and Inclusion Committee (Chris Culver, Michelle Eidson, Mark Phillips, Kristy VanDorn, and Sherri Verble) as did two members of the Deer Creek school board at that time (Kelli Lay and Andi Neaves).

Four students also served on the board, as did 37 “patrons.”

Brooke Townsend, a founder of the Deer Creek Parent Legislative Action Committee (PLAC), was among the “patrons” serving on the school’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee that selected OCCJ to provide training.

Townsend is also listed as a member of OCCJ’s board of directors.

One of the teachers who served on the committee that selected OCCJ, Jena Nelson, has since filed as a Democratic candidate for state superintendent of public instruction.

On Feb. 12, 2022, Nelson claimed that CRT is not part of Oklahoma schools and dismissed concerns that many CRT concepts are now being relabeled as “social emotional learning” (SEL).

“We have never taught CRT in K-12 public schools and SEL is based on the Golden Rule,” Nelson tweeted.

Legislation that was signed into law in 2021 bans schools from teaching that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex” or that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

It is not clear if that ban applies to teacher-training sessions or if materials that require Deer Creek teachers to identify their own “conscious and unconscious biases,” as highlighted in OCCJ materials, would violate the law.

However, regulations adopted by the State Board of Education to guide implementation of the 2021 law state that public schools “shall be prohibited from executing contracts or agreements with internal or external entities” to provide “services, training, professional development, or any other assistance that includes, incorporates or is based on discriminatory practices” banned by the law.

No OCCJ materials associated with the Deer Creek teacher workshops are currently available. Although the contract calls for OCCJ to provide 13 trainings, none have occurred.

Perez said training materials are still being developed and OCCJ is not in violation of its contract because the delay was requested by the district.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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