by Dr. Terry Stoops
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
Attention taxpayers! School boards are not powerless to stop the adoption of instructional materials informed by critical race theory and its offshoots.
Critical race theorists believe that white supremacy lies at the heart of American institutions, social structures, and professed ideals. But critical race theory is not merely a benign concept occupying the minds of university professors and pages of obscure academic journals. Instead, it is a movement that demands its adherents to transform these supposedly racist institutions, structures, and ideals through hardline activism. Critical race theory boasts a fully developed network of devotees working within schools, corporations, government, and the military to, in the words of Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, “end racism by seeing it everywhere.”
Critical race theory infiltrates public schools in various ways, but none is more far-reaching than classroom instruction. Daily classroom activities offer ample opportunities for activist educators to impose their radical worldview on unsuspecting children. The code of ethics for North Carolina educators requires that they “not proselytize for personal viewpoints that are outside the scope of professional practice.” But there is no way to guarantee that teachers observe standards of professional conduct behind closed doors. Critical race theory demands that educators use their positions of authority to champion its central tenets or else be labeled bigots engaging in “color-blind racism.”
School boards have an essential role in enforcing the code of ethics and the conduct of school employees generally. State law specifies that local boards of education “shall have full power to make all just and needful rules and regulations governing the conduct of teachers, principals, and supervisors.” Thus, if school board members discover that district employees knowingly violate the statewide code of ethics or locally established rules of conduct, they have a responsibility to confront it.
In addition to oversight of school personnel, state law details the role of school boards in making curriculum decisions and selecting instructional materials. I have encountered school board members that contend that their hands are tied, thanks to content standards and textbooks approved by the State Board of Education. But that is not necessarily the case.
Standards merely outline the subjects and skills that state education officials expect educators to cover at each grade level or course. School district leaders are free to adopt an existing curriculum package, develop curricula locally, or opt for combining the two. Regardless of the curriculum used, the only expectation is that it generally aligns with state standards. To ensure fidelity with content standards, some school boards mandate the appointment of a curriculum committee composed of administrators, teachers, and staff.
State law is unequivocal about school boards’ power to select textbooks and instructional materials for students. According to the North Carolina General Statutes,
Local boards of education shall have sole authority to select and procure supplementary instructional materials … to determine if the materials are related to and within the limits of the prescribed curriculum, and to determine when the materials may be presented to students during the school day.
This authority includes the power to establish policies and procedures for adopting library books, periodicals, audiovisual materials, and other supplementary instructional materials. School boards even have the authority to select textbooks that have not been adopted by the State Board of Education through its formal textbook adoption process.
Lawmakers recognize that the responsibilities of overseeing curriculum matters may overwhelm even the most dedicated group of school board members. That is why state law invites school boards to create a community media advisory committee. The purpose of the committee is to “investigate and evaluate challenges from parents, teachers, and members of the public to textbooks and supplementary instructional materials on the grounds that they are educationally unsuitable, pervasively vulgar, or inappropriate to the age, maturity, or grade level of the students.” The advisory committee would not have the authority to remove inappropriate materials from the classroom. The school board retains that authority.
Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson and the Republican majority in the General Assembly have spearheaded efforts to address political and ideological activism in public schools. But there is no better way to obliterate critical race theory than for citizens to implore school boards to discharge roles and responsibilities already prescribed in state law.