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Arizona won't be banning critical race theory in public schools

A woman holds up a sign during a rally against "critical race theory" being taught in schools at the Loudoun County Government Center in Leesburg, Va., on June 12. CRT was an issue that helped bolster Republicans at the polls earlier this month.
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds
/
AFP via Getty Images
A woman holds up a sign during a rally against "critical race theory" being taught in schools. CRT was an issue that has helped bolster some Republicans at the polls.

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- Arizona won't be banning what has been called "critical race theory'' in public schools.

In a brief message, Gov. Katie Hobbs on Thursday vetoed legislation that its sponsor says would preclude schools from teaching what its prime sponsor called "pushing a destructive and racist ideology'' in our schools. That is based on the assessment of Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, that some students are being taught that America as a whole is a racist country.

But Hobbs, in her 16th veto since the session began in January, said this is a fake political issue.

"It is time to stop utilizing students and teachers in culture wars based on fearmongering and unfounded accusations,'' she wrote. "Bills like SB 1305 only serve to divide and antagonize.''
Hobbs, however, sidestepped questions about exactly what in the measure she found objectionable, even when asked about the specific provisions.

"I just fundamentally disagree that this bill addresses a real problem that we're facing in our schools,'' she said during a briefing later with reporters.

The governor also said that if students are getting lessons and exercises that divide them up into groups to understand certain experiences, like privileged and not, she is sure there is a good reason for that.

"They're using curriculum to teach a lesson,'' Hobbs said.

"I'm not going to question what they're doing,'' she continued. "I'm sorry that parents were offended by that.''

And the governor made it clear that if lawmakers send her similar measures that deal with what she believes are fake education issues they will meet a similar fate.

"I urge the Legislature to work with me on the real issues affecting Arizona schools: underfunded classrooms, a growing educator retention crisis, and school buildings in need of repair and replacement,'' she said.

Mesnard told Capitol Media Services the governor is off base.

"I don't think it's a made-up issue,'' he said, saying parents are "very concerned with some of the assignments their kids are coming home with.'' And Mesnard said it's not like approving a bill on critical race theory, which actually has been debated for a year, takes away focus from other issues.

"We can multi-task,'' he said.

Strictly speaking, SB 1305 does not contain the words "critical race theory'' despite the fact that is how Mesnard and many Republicans refer to it. Instead, it contains a laundry list of concepts that he -- and the other Republicans in the House and Senate -- said should not be taught in public schools.

These include:
- Judging an individual on the basis of the individual's race or ethnicity;
- Teaching that one race or ethnic group is inherently morally or intellectually superior to another;
- Discussing that an individual, by virtue of race or ethnicity, is inherently racist or oppressive, whether consciously or otherwise;
- Saying an any individual bears responsibility or blame for actions committed by those of the same race or ethnic group.

Much of the objections surrounded not the specific provisions but the fact that the measure allowed teachers who are found to have run afoul of the provisions would be subject to discipline "as the State Board of Education deems appropriate.''\

And school districts are subject to $5,000-a-day fines.

All that, foes said, could result in teachers avoiding controversial subjects and refusing to answer questions from students on issues of race and ethnicity.

Mesnard said that's not true.

He noted SB 1305 specifically lists slavery, the removal of Native Americans from their lands, the Holocaust and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II as permissible subjects.

But he said the legislation never said that was "a full, encompassing list'' of what could be taught, noting it would have allowed teachers and invited guest to discuss "historical movements, ideologies or instances of racial hatred or discrimination.''

But Mesnard said some things are "abhorrent and shouldn't be taught,'' like telling kids they are responsible for acts done by those of their own race. And that, he said, makes the legislation necessary.

"This is an issue that, if you don't nip it in the bud now, you are going to see more and more,'' Mesnard said. He said he "wanted to stop it before it becomes a bigger problem.''

He also brushed aside claims that teachers will steer clear of controversial subjects out of fear they will be disciplined.

Mesnard said his own experiences as a political science teacher at Mesa Community College and Arizona State University convince him there are ways to teach about the history of racism without running afoul of the provisions of SB 1305 and the specific list of what the measure would have prohibited.

And even if there were a complaint that some lesson went over the line, Mesnard said there is a "multi-layered'' procedure that has to be completed.

"The idea that someone's going to punished for an incidental accidental, I didn't realize that would fall into this category is impossible,'' he said.

All this is based on claims by some Republicans that majority students are being taught to hate their own race or made to feel guilty about things those of their own race have done in the past.

Critical race theory, however, actually is an academic concept usually taught and discussed at the college level, looking at issues of how racism occurs and how current attitudes are based on historical practices.

But Mesnard called CRT "a radical, leftist world view that evaluates people solely on the color of their skin and essentially defines everyone as either 'privileged' or 'marginalized' based on race or ethnicity,'' what he called "harmful propaganda ... turning Americans against each other and instilling divisiveness among our youth.''

The veto comes as Republican Tom Horne, the newly elected state school superintendent, launched what he called the "Empower Hotline'' he said is designed to allow parents and others to report "inappropriate public school lessons that detract from teaching academic standards.'' And Horne made it clear this is aimed at stopping critical race theory, rejecting statements that it is not taught in public schools.

"The evidence is to the contrary,'' he said in a prepared statement Thursday.

"I have a list of 250 Arizona teachers who signed a shocking statement promoted by the national teachers' union, that if critical race theory were banned, they would defy the law,'' Horne continued. "They would not have signed if they were not already teaching it.''

Hobbs has her own view of the hotline.

"These are attempts to fearmonger, to create a era of harassment and, frankly, put a chilling effect on what teachers say in the classroom and drive a wedge between them and their students and families that they're there to serve,'' she said.

"Quite frankly, I think the superintendent is out of touch with what is really going on in our classrooms.''

And Hobbs said if parents have questions about what their students are being taught they should go speak to the teachers and local school board members