The wrenching struggle to define critical race theory at one Orange County school district

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Inside a wood-clad meeting room in Orange County, five school board members sat in front of a sign-waving, opinionated crowd. For more than three hours, the trustees listened, debated and asked questions as they tried to decide whether to ban classroom teaching on a difficult subject not taught in their schools: critical race theory.

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Board members of the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District had even turned to the trusted pages of encyclopedia britannica, copying the entry for Critical Race Theory into a public offer that may become the district’s legal policy.

“I don’t think that definition is really good,” said trustee Marilyn Anderson after reading the condensed entry. “I think it really needs to be specific. It needs to articulate specific principles that we don’t want to be taught in our district — like whether the United States is fundamentally or systematically racist.”


At the end of a long night, the board adjourned voting. But what unfolded during his session revealed much more than anger at the “yes” or “no” vote to ban the critical race theory. Their meeting took a closer look at how an advanced educational concept has been turned into a political slogan, creating uneasy discussions about how race, racism and equality are taught in schools – and how it How inside a suburban school board meeting can be defined as be a mine.


Critical race theory is a university-level educational lens to examine how racial inequality and racism have historically been embedded in legal systems, policies, and institutions in America and are not typically taught in K-12 schools. Yet Republicans have seized upon it as an issue portraying white people as racist oppressors and people of color as oppressed. Democrats largely see the conservative campaign against Critical Race Theory as racist dog-whistling politics that polarizes broader discussions about reckoning with America’s past.

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Viewers watch from a window as the Placentia Yorba Linda school board discusses a proposed proposal to ban critical race theory from being taught in schools.
(Robert / Gauthier)

Against this background, school board members and parents in suburban Placentia-Yorba Linda are trying to figure it all out for their children.

Although ultimately designed to ban the critical race theory, 14 point resolution of the district It was touted as a way to promote a “safe and respectful environment for students”. It said the district “stands with a commitment to teaching a complete and accurate account of history while supporting the cultural integrity of students.”

Among the issues considered during the discussion were whether the district should promote “equality” or “equality”; whether to include the term “multiculturalism”; And whether it was worth trying to “free the students from the historical crimes of the past”.

Public comments at the meeting were almost evenly divided between those who were in favor and those who believed they opposed the critical race theory. Most of the students who spoke, including students of color, opposed the ban and supported their ethnic studies class, currently an elective course in high school.

“I’ve learned that people like me can make history—something I never thought I’d be able to learn within the American education system,” one student told the board.

Critical race theory is often mixed with ethnic studies, a separate academic discipline that seeks to guide students in both K-12 and college courses through the history, struggles, and contributions of Black, Latino, Asian, and Indigenous Americans. Earlier this year, California became the first state in the country to make ethnic studies a curriculum requirement for high school gradation in 2030 — and teachers in each district can design their curriculum with guidance from a state-approved framework. can.

In September, Placentia-Yorba Linda made headlines when a Yorba Linda High School student held up a handmade poster reading “Ur Dad is My Gardener” before a football game against a high school with a much larger Latino student population. Of Placentia-Yorba Linda’s 23,000 students, approximately 44% are Hispanic or Latino and 31% White, the two largest populations. Some in the community pointed to the incident as an urgent call for more education around diversity and racism.

school board narrowly accepted The development of your current ethnic study is optional beginning this year. also approved a resolution condemning racism in 2020.

It is unclear what the board will decide to do about critical race theory. There have been some trustees including Anderson, Leandra Blades and Shawn Youngblood. outspoken about their opposition For this. blade is also criticized To attend the January 6 Trump rally in Washington, DC

The tenure of the meeting was at times brisk, but decent. Some attendees expressed applause for those who agreed with them and grumbled disapproval for those who did not. Board members agreed on a number of terms, including a point in the resolution which promoted “respecting the experiences of all students by encouraging instruction that appropriately explores multiculturalism”.

Anderson asked whether the term “multiculturalism” could be replaced with the phrase, “the history, philosophy, and structures that comprise the American experience.”

Board chairman Karin Freeman stated that multiculturalism was a logical term as it would be included in the title of alternative ethnic studies, but tentatively agreed to the replacement.

“Equity” and “equality” were also on the table as the board discussed whether to use one or both of the terms. Some argued that equality was possible to achieve, but true equality was difficult to achieve.

The board eventually decided to insert both the words and wait for its lawyers.

But defining critical race theory remained the focus of the conversation. The long encyclopedic entry used in the draft describes it as “an intellectual and social movement and a loosely organized framework of legal analysis based on the premise that race is a natural, biologically distinct group of anatomically distinct subgroups of human beings.” is not an attribute based but a socially constructed (culturally invented) category used to oppress and exploit people of color.”

Youngblood also said they should mention specific components they oppose – including promoting any course materials or supporting ideas such as “white supremacy,” “privilege,” “micro-aggression,” or “anything that is supposed to offend a particular race.”

Blade agreed, adding that instead of the encyclopedic definition they should instead add bullet points about what would not be taught, and how they would not “race against each other.”

Andrea Dario wears a sign saying she will remove her children from the district should the ban not pass.
Andrea Dario, who opposes teaching CRT at the school, wears a sign saying she will remove her children from the district if the ban is not imposed.
(Robert / Gauthier)

In a respectful exchange, they discussed hypothetical situations that could lead to care in the classroom.

Board Vice President Carrie Buck was concerned that the proposed limits could fuel discussions and confusion. She cited the example of a guest speaker who spoke to students about their experiences as women of color. Buck wondered whether that conversation would be off-limits in the future because it touched on the intersection, or the overlapping, of social identities.

“I don’t think we’ll get over it,” Youngblood said. “I guess if it was a woman, a person of color, who would come and talk about her success…”

Buck intervened: “But what if he talks about the fall before he finds success? Is he okay?”

“That’s perfectly fine,” Youngblood replied, “but I think where it gets problematic is to say, ‘I had to do this and all the whites were putting me down, and there was no way that I can do it because the whole system is racist. That would be wrong.”

Raquel Fleischman, a mother of three students in the district, said she was concerned by the ambiguity of the proposed ban. She was concerned that the resolution was so vague that any mention – or questions surrounding it – could potentially fall under the umbrella of exclusion.

“There’s so much left in the air for what it is,” Fleischmann said before the meeting. “If we can’t even compromise on what it is, how can we ban it? In general, there are not many proposals to ban Anything in teaching.”

One father, Miguel López, emphasized that important breed theory is not being taught at any level in the district, but rather that “it is the catchall that is ubiquitous when it comes to issues of race in this country.”

“It has this chilling effect – not just in this district, but across the country – where the things we are trying to discuss that we need to discuss, about race and racism, are just not taught. going,” he said.

But others were vehemently opposed to the critical race theory, and urged the board to approve the proposal on the table. Some threatened to drag their children out of the district lest they become “educated”.

“By separating children by race – and insisting that some people are holding others back while perpetuating some sort of systemic racism – doesn’t this create division and hatred?” asked John Templin. “I don’t think it makes friends.”

Another, who gave her name as Amy S., said that critical race theory “perpetuates the victim mentality,” and worried that the teachings contained that white children should be discriminated against for mistakes of the past. .


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