Ray Carter | March 10, 2022

School CRT regulations updated, but critics say more needed

Ray Carter

The State Board of Education has approved permanent rules for a new state law that bans schools from teaching certain concepts broadly associated with Critical Race Theory, but one critic told the board the regulations do not go far enough.

John Guinn, Oklahoma state director for Convention of the States, told state board members that the latest version of the regulations failed to incorporate proposed language “that would have otherwise strengthened and protected the rights of parents to safeguard their children from prohibited discriminatory concepts.”

House Bill 1775, which was approved by lawmakers last year, bans K-12 schools from requiring or making part of a course any material that declares “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.” The law includes several other similar prohibitions that target concepts broadly associated with Critical Race Theory.

The State Board of Education approved emergency rules to implement the law in July and September last year. During the group’s March 10 meeting, they voted to adopt permanent rules. The latest version included some modifications from the emergency rules, including stricter time requirements for investigation of complaints, but critics argued the regulations should have additional language to better ensure compliance and protection of whistleblowers.

“Instead of relying on the experiences of parents, and on the feedback provided by hundreds of families and citizens, the board opted to ‘play it safe’ at the expense of children.” —John Guinn

Convention of the States is an organization seeking to amend the U.S. Constitution to restrain spending and impose term limits on members of Congress. The group has 47,000 Oklahoma supporters, many of whom submitted comments to the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) during the rulemaking process for HB 1775.

More than 1,000 comments were submitted to OSDE regarding HB 1775 regulations from both supporters and opponents. In a normal rulemaking process, the submission of 200 comments was previously considered a large number.

“Since the passage of the emergency rule in July (and in September) of last year, parents have witnessed first-hand the reckless disregard of public schools to adhere to the prohibitions guaranteed by HB 1775 and the board’s emergency rule,” Guinn said. “Violations of the law have not been patently or demonstrably obvious; rather, school districts have adapted their practices and policies and approaches to maximize loopholes in the rule.

“Based on these first-hand experiences, parents and other stakeholders across this state submitted over 500 public comments seeking genuine and reliable changes to the rule that would curb the misconduct and noncompliance with House Bill 1775,” Guinn continued. “Instead of relying on the experiences of parents, and on the feedback provided by hundreds of families and citizens, the board opted to ‘play it safe’ at the expense of children.”

A number of proposed changes submitted by citizens who favored HB 1775 were not incorporated into the latest version of the regulations.

The rejected language included specifically adding “nonacademic” content to material covered by the law. Parents have reportedly complained that schools are evading HB 1775’s provisions by incorporating CRT concepts into such nonacademic programs, including some labeled as “social emotional learning” materials, or SEL.

Another proposal submitted by many citizens, but not included in the final regulations, was a specific definition of “retaliation.” The proposed definition would have defined the term to include “any adverse or punitive action taken against an individual for engaging in a lawful or protected activity.”

Although the regulations still prohibit retaliation against students’ whose parents file complaints, the term is left undefined.

Guinn noted that the state board’s approval is not the end of the process and vowed that citizens would continue fighting to strengthen regulations implementing HB 1775. The regulations approved by the board must now undergo legislative review and gain the approval of Gov. Kevin Stitt.

“I assure you that we will not give up,” Guinn said. “We will continue to make our voices heard at the Legislature and with the Governor’s office, who, as you know, must also approve this rule. We will continue to work to ensure compliance with House Bill 1775, even if this board blatantly rejects the voice of the parents.”

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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