Dueling protests take on race theory, state school board members and legislators join in

By: - September 22, 2021 12:50 am

Rain falls on counter protesters who support race education in schools. The demonstration on Tuesday in front of the Ohio Department of Education ran opposite an anti-critical race theory demonstration. Photo by Susan Tebben

The Ohio Board of Education met for its September meeting on Tuesday, but outside the building, protesters on both sides of the heated debate over race in education stood in the rain saying their piece.

Board members didn’t just attend the meeting inside, however. Dr. Jenny Kilgore took time before the meeting to stand with anti-critical race theory demonstrators.

“I support the issues that they are protesting and I’m here as a member of the Board of Education from Southwest Ohio,” Kilgore told the OCJ.

A counter protester films anti-critical race theory demonstrators on Tuesday in front of the Ohio Department of Education.
Photo by Susan Tebben

Kilgore agreed with arguments that teaching history and other subjects with a lens toward the impact of race is “very divisive” and should not be taught in classrooms with young students “who do not have the ability to discern if that’s critical race theory.”

“I don’t think that’s an appropriate way to look at history,” Kilgore said. “I do believe that we should look at accurate data history, but not revise it to suit our agendas.”

On the other side of the building, amid a counter protest that included a “read-in” of books about race theory and others by authors of color, retired teacher and fellow board member Meryl Johnson called it “unrealistic and disingenuous” to say those hoping education includes race are dividing the country.

“Critical race theory has been made to be a boogeyman because they want to distract from what the real issues are,” Johnson said. “And the real issues are: Are we going to do what’s best for our children of color so that they can have the same opportunities as everyone else?”

Part of the reason for the protests was because of a resolution passed by the state education board in July that condemned racism and promoted an equity plan for education in the state. That resolution has been a topic of discussion for the board ever since, leading to a measure asking the Ohio Attorney General for an opinion on the legality of the resolution.

Dan Regenold, founder of a coalition of Ohio groups against critical race theory, said the demonstration was partly to “give the board a kick in the rear end” because of the racism resolution.

“We don’t want the school system trying to pick winners and losers and who needs this and who needs that,” Regenold said. “We want them to let the students have the equality that they were born with and shine and do great.”

Johnson, who supported the racism resolution, said whether or not the resolution stands or is reversed, “the horse is out of the barn.”

“The work is being done and the people who really care about all of our children are still going to do the work, no matter what happens,” Johnson said.

Board members weren’t the only state leaders in attendance at the protests. As the Ohio General Assembly comes back from summer break, they have two pieces of legislation to consider that target critical race theory as a concept in Ohio schools.

State Rep. Kristin Boggs, D-Columbus, said she came out after meeting with student groups across her district who were concerned about the impact removing race from school discussions could have on their education.

“They want the whole story, they want the whole truth, they want to be able to have open and candid dialogues and they’re very concerned that this legislation would circumvent their ability to do that,” Boggs said.

State Rep. Jennifer Gross, R-West Chester, spoke at the anti-CRT demonstration, expressing her support for those who chose to speak their mind against race discussions in schools.

“Just by your birth, you were born into freedom and so it’s okay to protest, it’s okay to verbalize and it’s okay to have a demonstration,” Gross said.

Both bills are scheduled for their third hearing in the House State and Local Government Committee on Wednesday afternoon.

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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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