Ray Carter | January 29, 2022

Tahlequah kids quizzed on CRT, transgender stances

Ray Carter

Seventh-grade students in Tahlequah were quizzed during the first semester of school about their views on Critical Race Theory, transgenderism, abortion, and other political issues … in a middle-school geography course.

The quiz gained public attention when it was discussed during this month’s meeting of the State Board of Education.

On Oct. 11, 2021, the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) received an email informing agency officials that a “Mr. Smalley,” who taught seventh-grade geography in Tahlequah Public Schools, had given students a Chromebook assignment/quiz “that asked for the students to rate their stance on the following topics: Critical Race Theory, Abortion (including late term & abortion in the case of rape or incest), Gay marriage, Transgender Identify, the execution of Afghan terrorists and numerous other topics.”

The complaint continued, “First, I would like to know if this would be appropriate in any classroom, especially with 12-13 year old, seventh grade students? Second, what did this have to do with Geography and what did this teacher have to gain from such information?”

The complaint stated that Smalley “crossed so many lines” with the survey assignment. (The complaint appears to reference teacher David Smalley.)

“These are sensitive topics, most of which I wouldn’t consider to be appropriate at this age level,” the complaint stated. “It saddens me to think that I may have to consider private school in the near future because I can’t trust my child being left in the hands of the public school system.”

The complaint stated that Tahlequah school officials had received complaints about the survey from several families.

Under House Bill 1775, which became law this year, schools are banned 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.”

That law includes several other similar provisions broadly associated with Critical Race Theory, such as banning instruction that tells children an individual “should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex.” It also prohibits public schools from teaching that “meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist or were created by members of a particular race to oppress members of another race.”

OSDE officials investigated whether the Tahlequah geography quiz had violated HB 1775.

During the OSDE’s investigation, agency officials found that the Tahlequah survey included 41 questions and also asked students whether they supported raising taxes “on the rich” and increasing the federal minimum wage, thought foreign terrorism suspects should be “given constitutional rights,” believed the federal government should increase funding for public transportation, supported requiring food producers to label genetically engineered foods, supported photo ID to vote, or believed the Electoral College should be abolished.

In a Nov. 15, 2021, letter of response to the complainant, Brad Clark, general counsel for the Oklahoma State Department of Education, stated, “As an initial matter, Oklahoma law continues to provide that local school districts shall exclusively determine curriculum.” The OSDE stated that questions on the Tahlequah geography quiz “are legitimate and appropriate discussions to have in the proper course and forum,” but that those issues “are to be exclusively determined by local control at the school district board of education.”

However, the agency indicated the questions were not appropriate for a geography course. Clark stated that a “review of the Oklahoma Academic Standards, to which all public schools are to be aligned in their instructional programs, shows that these questions are not appropriate, or doubtful at best, for a 7th grade geography class. Further, the State Department is entirely uncertain as to their relevance in that course of instruction. During its review, the Department was advised that there was no instruction or classroom instruction regarding the quiz. Rather, the teacher advised that the class was discussing current topics in the United States, he found the quiz online and failed to review it in its entirety. While that may be true, the State Department has conveyed its stance to the school district, stressing age, grade-level and course appropriateness for curricular materials.”

However, the agency concluded the quiz did not involve “any one or more of the principles or concepts prohibited by House Bill 1775” and that the school and teacher faced no sanctions under that law.

The Tahlequah complaint was discussed briefly during a report on HB 1775 complaints during the January meeting of the State Board of Education.

“We didn’t see a violation of 1775,” Clark told board members, “but did question why that subject was being brought up in a geography class.”

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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