SARATOGA — Wyoming should clarify and impose its own instruction standards regarding “equality and equal rights” rather than anticipate federal mandates to teach critical race theory, according to Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper.
Scott, chairman of the Joint Education Interim Committee, asked committee members to instruct the Legislative Service Office to draw up a draft bill based on a two-page outline that he authored titled “Instruction on Equality and Equal Rights.” He distributed paper copies of the document to fellow committee members just prior to concluding the committee’s meeting late Monday afternoon in Saratoga.
The committee declined to move the measure to a draft bill on a vote of 7-7 on Tuesday evening.
Several members in opposition said the measure attempted to usurp the authority of the State Board of Education, which has authority to set standards for K-12 instructional directives.
The draft measure Scott disseminated Monday stipulated that instruction of equality and equal rights in Wyoming’s K-12 schools shall be based on “principles set forth in the second paragraph of the United States Declaration of Independence and Article 1, Sections 2 and 3 and Article 6, Section 1 of the Constitution of the State of Wyoming.”
The measure would have mandated that students shall be given a copy of the articles beginning in the fourth grade, and the “materials shall be read aloud to the students during class and time shall be provided for an age appropriate discussion of what it means.”
Students would also be instructed that “Wyoming is proud that it is the first jurisdiction to permanently provide that men and women have equal rights to vote and to seek and hold elected office and further that the bill providing this equality passed at the first session of the Wyoming Territorial Legislature in 1869 so Wyoming has never denied this equality since its citizens had control of their political system.”
Facts about “slavery and race based discrimination by law and by custom shall be taught in an age appropriate fashion,” Scott’s draft measure continued. “The historical struggles to end slavery and discrimination shall be taught as an effort to live up to our founding principles and as being aided by those principles.”
Teachers and school personnel “are encouraged to teach that it is wrong to be unfair to anyone or treat anyone differently based on the color of their skin or their ethnic background.”
If the federal government conditions any federal funding to “teaching contrary” to the principles, Scott’s draft measure concluded, Wyoming’s Superintendent of Public Instruction “shall refuse to accept the federal funding and shall not comply with the federal requirement.”
The term critical race theory refers to a broad set of American academic analysis and study of systemic discrimination rooted in the nation’s history that helps explain continuing biases and disparities, according to scholars.
Several states have initiated measures to restrict the instruction of critical race theory in public schools, fearing the Biden administration may make such teaching a condition for federal funding of public schools. No such mandate exists to date.
The idea of a potential mandate gained momentum after the 2020 election of President Joe Biden and his revocation, by executive order, of President Trump’s 1776 Commission. The commission rebuked a perceived narrative within the 1619 Project that the foundation of the United States was based in racial oppression that still manifests in inequalities today.
“Rather than just be against something the feds might or might not ask us to do, I think it’s much better to have a positive approach and to teach equality based on what we’ve put in [Wyoming’s] Constitution and what was put in the Declaration of Independence,” Scott told WyoFile on Monday. “If we do it this way, if they require us to teach something that is opposed to this [Scott’s pending bill draft], then it would be an ability to turn the funds down.”
Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, voted against the measure and said it is a clear deviation from the Wyoming Constitution and long-established division of powers that prioritizes local control over how to meet curriculum standards set by the State Board of Education.
“For us to go down a path that has this magnitude of importance where we start prescribing and dictating educational content on the supposition that someone might make a request,” Rothfuss said. “Wow.”
The concern that the federal government might effectively mandate curriculum by making its adoption a condition of federal education funding appeared in another draft measure that Scott put forth to the Education Committee.
Draft measure Education-prohibition of acceptance of federal funds would have allowed the state superintendent to prohibit spending “any” federal education funds if doing so requires the “use of specific textbooks or teaching materials contrary to article 7, section 11 of the Wyoming constitution [sic].”
That measure failed Tuesday on a vote of six yeas and eight nays.
Critics have alleged that a lack of clear standards for civics and history in Wyoming’s K-12 schools invites outside special interests to push particular narratives.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow, a Republican, issued a press release on May 4 alleging that the U.S. Department of Education’s American History and Civics Education grant programs under the Biden administration “is an attempt to normalize teaching controversial and politically trendy theories about America’s history.”
Wyoming Republican Sen. Cynthia Lummis denounced unsubstantiated claims that the Biden administration is moving to make facets of the 1619 Project mandatory curricula for public schools as a condition of federal funding.
“Students and teachers should have an open and honest dialogue in the classroom about our nation’s history,” Lummis said in a June 14 statement. “However, the 1619 Project is pushing an anti-American agenda and distorted, revisionist history with hard-earned taxpayer dollars.”
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