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Orange County School District Bans Critical Race Theory

Yorba Linda High School. Photo: Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District

Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District banned the teaching of critical race theory (CRT) “and other similar frameworks”, in a close 3-2 vote on April 5th. The vote came after a heated discussion at the Orange County school district among teachers, parents, students and trustees, with vocal support for and against the ban.

The resolution stated “the District supports efforts in education to promote equity, respect, diversity; celebrate the contributions of all; and encourage culturally relevant and inclusive teaching practices, but will not allow the use of Critical Race Theory as a framework to guide such efforts.”

Opponents of the ban, including two of the board trustees, called it censorship, claiming it would deny students “access to rigorous coursework” and abridge free speech. Proponents, on the other hand, claim that it is the authority of parents to determine what is taught to their children and how it is taught. 

“I don’t want my politics, I don’t want your politics, I don’t want anybody’s politics in [classrooms],” argued board member Leandra Blades, a supporter of the ban. “I do believe in teaching kids to think critically. But there are so many classes … there are so many things you could teach your kids at home. If you really are passionate about these subjects, then teach them.”

Board President Carrie Buck, who opposed the ban, claimed that students and teachers largely opposed the ban, and that she had received over 100 calls and emails from students urging her to vote against it — an unprecedented level of engagement.

Notably, the resolution does not outline any penalty for violating it, although the board did discuss setting up a process for parents to lodge complaints with school principals, who would be responsible for investigating the allegations. 

One parent called for all teachers to sign the resolution and for violators to be kicked out of schools, in a similar fashion to those who refused to abide by mask mandates.

The resolution does not affect students, only teachers and curricula, and states “Nothing in this resolution shall be construed to restrict academic freedom or student speech.”

CRT is a theoretical interpretative lens which views history and social phenomena through group conflict and systematic oppression, and claims that all social institutions in the United States have white supremacy and racism at their foundation. CRT has become a flashpoint in the ongoing culture war, with conservatives arguing that it teaches children to hate their country and feel shame or victimhood based on their race, sowing division and discord by heightening racial tensions. Progressives argue that CRT is a university level theory that isn’t generally taught at the K-12 level, and simultaneously claim that banning it could restrict all discussions of race and related issues.

Teaching CRT and the politics of race has in fact garnered wide support across California, with Governor Newsom signing into law a bill requiring ethnic studies courses as a graduation requirement for all highschools by 2030. However, at the local level such curricula have generated intense opposition from concerned parents and communities, leading to bans like Placentia-Yorba Linda’s, where one school board member estimated 75% of the community at large was in favor of the ban. 

Michael Whittaker is a commentator and analyst for The California Review focused on national and California affairs. Whittaker was previously a contributor at both the Stanford Review and the Stanford Daily.