‘She skirted the issue,’ former education secretary tells ‘The Story’
The eight-member Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education on Monday unanimously denounced a new law signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt that implicitly bans the teachings of critical race theory from being included in the state’s public school curriculum.
Board member Ruth Veales, who is Black and Native American, argued the legislation was attempting to quiet discussions regarding race “in order to protect White fragility.”
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“As a district that’s over 80% students of color, this is definitely an insult,” Veales, who is the longest serving board member going on 12 years, said at the meeting also livestreamed online. “It is a situation that is so egregious to me.”
Stitt, a Republican, signed House Bill 1775 into law on Friday. In part, the bill states that “no teacher shall require or make part of a course that one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex.” Though the bill does not name “critical race theory,” it does list several concepts that cannot be made part of a course by school employees, such as the belief “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.”
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The bill also prevents educators from teaching students that “any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex,” or that “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.”
But Veales took further issue with a statement made by the governor regarding the legislation.
“When I listen to what the governor said in his speech, and to say that it is not right for White students to feel like they should be held responsible for the oppression that Black people and others have felt by cause of them,” Veales continued at the school board meeting Monday. “But then let’s talk about the generational wealth, all on the backs of my people, let’s talk about that. And what about us as we sometimes don’t know how we’re going to make it from one day until the next.”
In a video statement released after signing Bill 1775, Stitt argued that the legislation “clearly endorses teaching to the Oklahoma academic standards, which were written by Oklahoma educators and include events like the Oklahoma City Bombing, the Tulsa Race Massacre, the emergence of Black Wall Street, Oklahoma City lunch counter sit-ins led by Clara Luper and the Trail of Tears.”
“We must keep teaching history and all of its complexities and encourage honest and tough conversations about our past. Nothing in this bill prevents or discourages those conversations,” Stitt said. “We can and should teach this history without labeling a young child as an oppressor or requiring that he or she feel guilt or shame based on their race or sex. I refuse to tolerate otherwise.”
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Veales, who represents district 5, on Monday also claimed that she experienced racism during her tenure on the Oklahoma City school board and called out Board Chair Paula Lewis for not allowing her to put certain items about racism on the board agenda in the past.
“I have experienced racism on this board – even when going to this board chair last March and asking for a space to talk about race on this board, and then for White fragility to come in and say ‘I don’t appreciate being called a racist,’ rather than honoring the request to have a place to have these conversations,” she said. “Yes, they are hard. They’re very hard. And unless they are hard, they’re not effective. Silence is acceptance and even for myself as a Black woman, as a strong Black woman, feeling often times on this board that I am looked at as an angry Black woman because I speak out.”
The bill sets terms for K-12 public and charter school education and prohibits mandated gender or sexual diversity training or counseling for university students – though voluntary counselling cannot be prohibited. The State Board of Education is to create rules, subject to approval by the state legislature.
Stitt on Friday said taxpayer money cannot be used “to define and divide young Oklahomans.”
“Martin Luther King spoke of a day where people in America would be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. House Bill 1775 codifies that concept that so many of us believe in our hearts, including me,” Stitt said. “And as governor, I will not stand for publicly funded K-12 schools training impressionable minds to define themselves by their sex or their race.”
The University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University both made announcements that their student diversity trainings can no longer remain mandatory once the new law takes effect, The Oklahoman reported. The Oklahoma GOP had called on the governor to sign the legislation in order to “ensure that children are not indoctrinated by dangerous leftist ideologies.”
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Groups that encouraged the governor to veto the bill included local Black clergy, the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Sean McDaniel, Millwood Public Schools Superintendent Cecilia Robinson-Woods and Midwest City-Del City Public Schools Superintendent Rick Cobb.