What we know about teaching since Oklahoma's so-called critical race theory ban went into effect
There is ample confusion around what can and can’t be taught in an Oklahoma classroom and across the country. There’s also fear. That fear has been described by teachers statewide, and one in Norman has even resigned over the bill.
That’s why StateImpact Oklahoma is putting together this FAQ guide about what teaching is like since the so-called critical race theory ban (HB 1775) was passed. Below we answer questions on the basic parts of the bill, as well as fact check some of the common misconceptions about the impact of the legislation.
The answers are collected from reporting by StateImpact, other news organizations and answers to questions sent to attorneys familiar with laws surrounding education.
What is HB 1775?
House Bill 1775 was a measure approved by Gov. Kevin Stitt in May 2021. The controversial law essentially prohibits eight concepts in a variety of education-related spaces, including curriculum and instructional materials; employee professional development; and diversity, equity and inclusion plans.
The eight banned concepts are ones that teach that:
- One race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex.
- An individual, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.
- An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of their race or sex.
- Members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect [based on] race or sex.
- An individual’s moral character is determined by their race or sex.
- An individual, by virtue of their race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.
- Any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of their race or sex.
- Meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist or were created by members of a particular race to oppress members of another race.
The Oklahoma State School Boards Association has updated guidance on what can or can’t be taught under each provision. It’s often called an anti-CRT bill, though this is a misnomer, as the measure doesn’t mention critical race theory.
What is critical race theory?
Critical race theory is an academic concept that says race and racism are entwined throughout American society. The theory was originally applied to law schools, and legal scholar Derrick Bell is often credited with coining the term.
“He made an argument about the enduring role that racism and racial discrimination has played in American institutional life, not just legal culture, but pervasive throughout American culture,” Karlos Hill, chair of the Clara Luper Department of African and African-American Studies, told StateImpact earlier this year.
But that definition seems lost in many local and national discussions on the topic. Instead, Hill said the debate is being leveraged by conservative lawmakers to energize their base and win elections.
“This critical race boogeyman, this manufactured polarization, is very effective in doing that, but it’s going to have long-term disastrous consequences,” Hill said.
Does HB 1775 ban critical race theory?
The bill does not mention “critical race theory,” so why is the term used so often when talking about it?
CRT as a term has been used by right-wing pundits to talk about concepts that are taught to children they consider dangerous. In the first half of 2021, for example, Fox News mentioned the term more than 1,800 times on air.
It’s often paired with words like “grooming” or “indoctrination,” even though that isn’t grounded in reality.
Is critical race theory being taught in Oklahoma schools?
Not that we know.
Though two school districts have been found in violation of HB 1775, there is no evidence that either were teaching critical race theory.
In a statement responding to written questions from StateImpact, State Department of Education attorneys wrote there is no documented case of CRT being taught in a K-12 classroom in Oklahoma. State standards make no reference to CRT.
What happens when HB 1775 has been violated?
That put in place a process to punish schools and/or teachers for violating the law related to their accreditation. The rules specifically say a school can be given an “accreditation deficiency.” That means the school will get a meeting with the Oklahoma State Department of Education accreditation office to fix the deficiency.
For a teacher found to “willfully violate” the law, their teaching license could be revoked by the state board. That educator would have the right to a hearing before the board with legal counsel, should that occur.
But revocation almost never happens. And when it does, it’s reserved for heinous criminal behavior.
For example, a handful of teachers had their licenses revoked following hearings in May.
They include teachers like former Stillwater social studies teacher Alberto Morejon. A former leader of the teacher walkout, Morejon, was sentenced to five years in prison for sexually lewd communication with a minor. Another is former Harrah High School baseball coach Charles Copeland, who is accused of “an indecent and lewd act,” with a student. A third is former Carnegie Public Schools special education teacher Andee Lantz, accused of raping a 16-year-old student.
What does an “accreditation warning” even mean?
In July, Tulsa and Mustang Public Schools were the first districts to face consequences for violating HB 1775.
The Oklahoma State Department of Education had recommended the schools be given accreditation with a deficiency for their potential violations of the law.
A district receives an accreditation warning when it “fails to meet one or more of the standards. Deficiency seriously detracts from the quality of the school and educational program,” per the State Department of Education.
There are four tiers of accreditation. From least to most serious, they are: accreditation with deficiency, accreditation with multiple deficiencies, accreditation with warning and accreditation probation.
The State Department of Education had recommended accreditation with one deficiency for the HB 1775 violation. However, the board decided to take it a step further by giving both districts accreditation with warning.
“We need to send a message,” Board member Estela Hernandez said at the meeting.
But should schools even really worry about that message?
According to an interview Gov. Kevin Stitt gave The Oklahoman, probably not.
“I support the school board. … You have to follow the law,” Stitt told the newspaper. “But here’s the deal, what did (the board) do? They just gave them a warning, a document that’s on a file, (that says) don’t do it again. It’s not the end of the world for those school districts.”
Schools are concerned about it, though. An accreditation warning is just one step below accreditation probation and can eventually lead to losing state accreditation and therefore state funding. That’s why Tulsa and Mustang have pleaded to have a re-hearing about their violations.
If I’m an Oklahoma teacher, can I teach the book “Killers of the Flower Moon” by David Grann?
A teacher from Dewey, Oklahoma made headlines for her decision not to teach the book “Killers of the Flower Moon” in her high school English class.
“As soon as that passed, I realized I would be setting myself up for House Bill 1775 to take away my license,” teacher Debra Thoreson told The Oklahoman.
The book is about a series of murders in the early 20th century of Osage Nation members who were killed by white people for their wealth.
But when asked point-blank about teaching Killers of the Flower Moon, attorneys for the State Department of Education wrote that educators are still allowed to teach the book under state law.
Lessons need to avoid anything that say specific students should feel bad for past deeds by people who might be of the same race, wrote Brandon Carey, a staff attorney for OSSBA who previously worked as legal counsel for Oklahoma City Public Schools and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights based in Dallas.
“Teaching the book from a historical perspective would not violate the law,” Carey wrote.