CHEYENNE – State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow showed her full support Friday morning for legislation designed to fight back against critical race theory in state schools.
She was alongside state Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, and the Civic Transparency Act’s creator, and co-sponsor Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton.
They stood in front of the state superintendent’s office inside the Capitol to introduce and discuss the importance of their bill, which will be introduced during the 2022 budget session. They said their goal is to establish Wyoming as a leader among the states in keeping critical race theory out of classrooms, while ensuring full transparency of teachers’ curriculums.
“This bill empowers parents with the tools they need to oversee what is being taught in their district, and provides guidance to districts on comprehensive U.S. history and civics instruction,” Balow said.
By allowing parents to have full access to the curriculum being taught before the school year begins, it gives them an opportunity to voice their concerns at school board meetings with proof of what they might consider critical race theory.
“We should not fear transparency,” Dockstader said. “And we should not fear parent involvement in our schools.”
This comes as a response to the recent rise across the state in parents actively participating and fighting for parental rights in their local school districts’ board of trustees meetings.
Masks have been the main topic of discussion as students enter the 2021-22 school year, but critical race theory comes in at a close second.
Balow said although there are no state laws encouraging this kind of curriculum, there are still schools in Wyoming teaching CRT-related topics, such as white oppression, systemic racism, white privilege and Marxism.
Balow said she believes because there has been a lack of, or inadequate, state standards for history in Wyoming, it has left an opening for inappropriate content and “radical political theories” to creep into the classroom.
To her, transparency in the school system would close the door.
Transparency is not the only goal of the bill, however. Curriculum requirements and new assessments are included in the draft of the legislation in order to comprehensively teach American and Wyoming history.
The first draft of the Civics Transparency Acts calls for school districts in Wyoming to publish a list of all instructional material used by K-12 public schools before each school year begins, as well as any speakers or activities that will take place.
There will be opportunities to update the list on an ongoing basis, as long as the complete list is not posted later than July 1 following the completion of the school year. But the material must stay up for at least one year after the completion of the previous school year.
The bill also requires students to pass an examination on the United States Constitution and the Wyoming Constitution before receiving their high school or college diploma.
Instruction on the assessment topics would be given for at least three years of grades K-8, and one year each at the secondary and college levels.
The bill also sets curriculum standards for teachers focused on history and civics education, such as teaching the history of suffrage in Wyoming and the history of slavery and race-based discrimination. It specifies including the end of slavery and efforts to end discrimination in accordance with the founding principals of the United States.
“We cannot stand by and let America’s history be rewritten,” Dockstader said. “We honor facts, we learn history, good and bad, and we recognize that Wyoming is the Equality State.”
Informing students about equality is Driskill and Dockstader’s intention, they said.
Driskill said he wants the legislation to reinforce the ideal that no one race is inherently better or worse than the other, but in America everyone is just as the U.S. Constitution says: equal.
The bill must pass a two-thirds vote to be introduced after the session begins — since it’s a non-budget bill — and will continue to develop in the form of new drafts over the upcoming months, but the core values will not change, according to the senators.
They also said Balow was instrumental in developing the legislation, which she hopes will become a national model for other states to follow.
“The single most important topic in this bill,” Balow said, “is that parents, taxpayers and board members are empowered. Empowered with more transparency and an expectation of accountability for what is taught in our schools in Wyoming.”