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Critical race theory, school lecture database debated in the Missouri Senate

JEFFERSON CITY – Republicans and Democrats clashed Wednesday when the GOP-led Missouri Senate, in its first major action of the year, adopted a plan to ban critical race theory in public schools.

After about three hours of debate, the Senate adjourned for the day without voting.

Legislation from Senator Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, follows the increase in pushbacks in recent years on school lessons that discuss concepts of race and gender, and includes a requirement that schools send all curricula, syllabuses and other materials to a state-run public portal.

“They’re teaching kids to treat people based on their race,” Koenig said.

“It’s pretty racist to tell my black children that they can’t make it in the world because they’re somehow oppressed by white people,” said Koenig, who is white and an adoptive father of black children. “And it’s equally racist to tell my white children that they are oppressing my black children.”

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“Because … minority communities are disproportionately affected by poverty,” said Sen. Steve Roberts, D-St. Louis. “Why shouldn’t we want our children, our adults, to be educated in this way that they can understand how to deal with these problems?

“What this legislation is trying to do is prohibit those conversations, those dialogues even happening, just to cover it up,” Roberts said. “I don’t understand why, you know, most people feel like they’re a victim.”

The debate has sometimes heated up.

In an exchange, Sen. Barbara Washington, D-Kansas City, asked Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, who supports the bill, to stop interrupting her during an inquiry into the bill.

“If you were a white guy or a white man, you wouldn’t do it,” said Washington, an attorney who acknowledged that she is “loud, black, female, and highly educated.”

“This bill will not allow my grandson to know his grandfather,” Washington said.

The legislation does not define critical race theory, but it does state that no school employee shall compel a teacher or student to personally adopt certain viewpoints, including that “individuals, by virtue of their race, ethnicity, color, or national origin, they bear collective guilt and are intrinsically responsible for actions committed in the past by others.

Critical race theory centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions and that they function to maintain white dominance in society.

The legislation goes on to outline a number of parental rights, including the ability to access curriculums, the names of guest speakers at the school, and information about the collection and transmission of student data.

It also establishes the “Missouri Education Transparency and Accountability Portal” which allows the public access to “curricula, textbooks, background materials, and curricula from every school district.”

Senator Doug Beck, D-south St. Louis County, said, This doesn’t involve people more. This will involve special groups to try to stir up trouble in school districts.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education surveyed school districts and charter schools about critical race theory and Project 1619, a project by Nikole Hannah-Jones and The New York Times that centers slavery and black people in American history, in July 2021.

Of 555 districts and charters surveyed, 425 responded.

Of these, only the Kansas City School District reported lessons on critical race theory instruction.

The Campus School District reported that a teacher was using the 1619 design in one unit. The Hazelwood School District reported that the project was listed as a resource for fourth graders and said that eighth graders “are given a reading of two paragraphs from Project 1619 describing the arrival of African enslaved at Jamestown”.

For ninth graders, Hazelwood said, “the 1619 project is mentioned in a suggested learning activity where President Trump discusses the 1619 project and the 1776 project.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

This article will be updated.

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