State Board of Ed members support banning racial focus in Ohio schools

By: - June 25, 2021 12:50 am

Dr. Jenny Shafer Kilgore, a member of the state Board of Education, speaks in support of a bill to eliminate the teaching of “divisive concepts” in schools. Shown over her right shoulder is fellow board of ed. member Kirsten Hill, who also supports the bill. Photo from The Ohio Channel

Present and former members of the Ohio State Board of Education are opposed to the use of a racial lens when teaching education in the state.

Dr. Jenny Shafer Kilgore, Kirsten Hill and Lisa Woods all spoke during multiple hours of testimony at a recent hearing in support of a bill that would eliminate the use of “divisive” subjects that may “promote” certain ideologies over others.

House Bill 327 “would allow teachers to teach the subject without the distractions of critical race theory… they would have more opportunity to focus on the subject matter,” said Kilgore, who teaches undergraduate education at Miami University and graduate education students at Indiana Wesleyan, according to her profile for the Board of Education website.

Kilgore said students should be taught “an accurate account of history in order to avoid destructive actions of the past and pursue a positive future.”

“Educators are compelled to slight time allocated to teaching academics in order to instruct on values such as social justice, altruism, environmental awareness, just to name a few, historically learned at home, in church and community, now delegated to the classroom,” Kilgore told the House State and Local Government Committee.

Lisa Woods, a state board member from 2017 to 2020, said the current public school curricula “correctly chronicle the foundation of the United States, its history as a colony and examine in great detail the scourge of slavery and the efforts to eradicate it.”

The state board of education oversees curriculum models for the state, but it is up to individual school districts to create individualized courses of study.

“What is good for my children is clearly good for all the school children of Ohio,” Woods said. “We need to teach them truths, to teach them proven concepts and to utilize practical learning measurements to ensure that they achieve the required academic levels necessary to earn their high school diploma.”

Because the Ohio Department of Education’s website includes a reference to the 1619 Project — a series published by the New York Times on slavery’s origins in American society, and which is a focus of those that oppose racial theories being taught in schools — Woods believes it’s likely being taught in schools. When asked if she knew of specific examples of the concepts being taught in schools, she couldn’t say.

“Because we do have local control, it’s very difficult to know and understand what’s being taught throughout all the districts,” Woods said.

After testifying that Ohio, unlike some other states, has never been “part of a system of racism,” Woods said she does not believe in the existence of systemic racism.

“It would have to be a system of racism, which I do not believe we have in Ohio,” Woods said.

House Bill 327’s co-author, state Rep. Sarah Fowler Arthur, R-Ashtabula, was also a board of education member from 2013 until becoming a state representative this year.

The bill and its supporters say teaching historical events such as the Constitution and the Civil War should be taught in a neutral way that presents both sides, rather than through a lens that pits one race or group against another, possibly causing feelings of “white guilt.”

Hill, Woods and Fowler Arthur were three of the five members who voted against a resolution adopted in July of last year by the state board to “condemn racism and to advance equity and opportunity for Black students, indigenous students and students of color.”

Kilgore abstained from voting on the measure.

The resolution acknowledged “gaps between test performance of Black, indigenous and people of color students and their white peers,” and called for a “culturally responsive curriculum” to reflect the history and background of students.

The majority of the state board adopted further language in the resolution that said the path to equity “begins with a deep understanding of the history of inequalities and inhumanity and how they have come to impact current society.”

“I foresee that if students are treated differently in Ohio schools based on their membership in a historically ‘privileged’ or ‘oppressed’ racial group, we’re going to create problems, not solve problems,” Hill testified in front of the committee.

Hill made headlines earlier this year after organizing a bus trip to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, aiming to protest the results of the 2020 presidential election. Hill did not deny going to a rally that day in Washington, D.C., but denied being a part of the attack on the U.S. Capitol which ended in several deaths, including that of a Capitol police officer.

According to the state education department, Ohio has received very few complaints about the academic theory being taught in schools, though supporters of the bill said they’ve heard complaints from teachers and parents in individual districts.

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This article includes a correction, clarifying votes on the July board of education resolution.

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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.

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