WEA president responds to new transparency bill aimed at critical race theory


GILLETTE — Grady Hutcherson, president of the Wyoming Education Association, has mixed feelings on the Civics Transparency Act, a bill recently introduced by state Sens. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, and Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, to address concerns about critical race theory being taught in Wyoming K-12 classrooms.

The bill would require school districts to publish their curricula on their websites so as to make it easier for parents to see what their children are learning in school, and it would also require students be taught “the principles set forth in the first and second paragraphs and the last sentence of the Declaration of Independence and in article 1, sections 2 and 3 and article 6, section 1 of the Wyoming Constitution,” according to the bill’s current text. 

Those provisions would allow for teachers to highlight these points:

  • Wyoming was the first jurisdiction to provide men and women with the equal right to vote and hold a public office when Wyoming's first territorial legislature passed the measure by law in 1869;
  • The history of slavery and race-based discrimination, to include the end of slavery and efforts to end discrimination in accordance with the founding principles of the United States;
  • That it is wrong to be unfair to anyone or treat anyone differently due to their race or ethnicity.

“The Wyoming Education Association (WEA) supports transparency in education, which is at the core of this proposed legislation,” Hutcherson said in a written statement. “WEA welcomes parents and communities in their right to be collaborative partners in students’ education. However, we do have concerns about the potential unintended consequences this draft legislation could have for education employees, districts, and — most importantly — students.”

Hutcherson worried about adhering to requirements of the legislation at the cost of quality classroom instruction.

“This draft legislation is the perfect example of a problem we see time and again here in Wyoming,” Hutcherson said in the statement. “The legislation reflects a lack of understanding about what’s practical in Wyoming classrooms. Being overly prescriptive by attempting to legislate strict adherence to cataloging all materials used to support lessons is unrealistic and burdensome red tape and takes away quality teaching time with students. That expectation would strip education professionals of the creativity and adaptation necessary to teach.”

Driskill acknowledged that the bill would create more work for school districts. He also said he doubted the published curricula would be used widely by Wyoming parents, but for those who were interested, it would be an invaluable tool.

Anne Ochs, chairwoman of the Campbell County School District board of trustees, said that critical race theory is a minor concern and "not really on our radar" for the district, but it would comply with the requirements of such a transparency bill, if signed into law.

One of Hutcherson’s biggest criticisms was that the requirements would be redundant.

“The very best educators enhance and bolster students’ learning with countless resources and materials every single day,” Hutcherson said in the statement. “It’s unrealistic and limiting to expect them to keep account of every resource they incorporate into teaching. This is why we have standards. Wyoming’s educational standards are painstakingly, meticulously developed by education professionals with input from community stakeholders, including parents. These standards are readily available and already allow for the transparency in education this bill attempts to provide.”

Jilian Balow, the state superintendent of public instruction, has voiced strong support for the bill and has spoken out publicly about the harms she sees in critical race theory. 

In May, Balow issued a statement criticizing the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed priorities for the American History and Civics Education grant programs because the priorities include Critical Race Theory curriculum recommendations such as the writings of “divisive author” Ibram X. Kendi and the New York Times’ 1619 Project.

Critical race theory is a framework taught mainly in law schools that seeks to analyze laws and social policies with an eye to the systemic racism that has plagued the U.S. since its founding. 

It forwards the idea that race is a social construct, not a biological reality, and that racism is not only perpetrated on an individual basis but rather it is ingrained in the laws themselves. 

Critical race theory has been a framework of legal analysis since around the early 1980s, and it is the result of research by Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Richard Delgado and others.