Ethnic Studies a coming topic of discussion for school board


Last updated 7/14/2021 at 7:09am

The topic of ethnic studies being taught in public schools will be coming up in future school board meetings within the Grand Coulee Dam School District. 

Monday’s school board meeting continued even after it was adjourned as Superintendent Paul Turner told the board that they should be ready for the topic of “critical race theory,” to come up at future meetings. 

The term “ethnic studies” is used in state legislation, rather than “critical race theory.”

Director of Communications Kate Payne of the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction helped clarify the difference. “Critical Race Theory is a specific legal frame for identifying inequities built into our social and governmental structures,” she explained before using a quotation from the National Education Association for Ethnic Studies that describes it as the “‘interdisciplinary study of the social, political, economic, and historical perspectives of our nation’s diverse racial and ethnic groups.”

“We’re going to have to have some deep discussions going into this fall on the critical race theory stuff,” Turner said. “I would advise everybody to dig into that, research it. There’s just a lot to it. We need to really get ourselves educated on it. It’s controversial. We need to really be educated on what it is. … Please don’t read it from just one angle. … It’s going to land in our lap of having to make a decision how we [proceed] through this.”

“More than the political aspect to it,” Board Director Rich Black said, “it’s what do we really want our kids to be exposed to. To me, that’s the bottom line. Do we want them to have an agenda on one side or the other side, or do we want to give them an objective appraisal?”

Black wanted to know what the board’s “latitude” is with the situation, and all expressed needing to learn more on the topic.

The Zoom meeting was turned off prior to the discussion ending.

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction has a deadline of Sept. 1, extended by a year in 2020, to “identify and make available ethnic studies materials and resources for use in grades kindergarten through twelve,” according to Senate Bills 5023 and 6066.

State law states in RCW 28A.150.210 that “a basic education is an evolving program of instruction that is intended to provide students with the opportunity to become responsible and respectful global citizens.”

The legislation encourages public schools with students in grades seven through 12 to offer an ethnic studies course that incorporates the materials and resources, but doesn’t require it.


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