The Cobb County School District will not use critical race theory or the New York Times’ 1619 Project after a party line vote by its governing board Thursday afternoon.
Board Chair Randy Scamihorn, a Republican, said he brought the resolution forward after Gov. Brian Kemp and the Georgia Board of Education condemned critical race theory and after seeing some district employees claim on social media they have used it in their schools.
The board’s four Republicans voted for the resolution, which states Cobb County School District “will NOT implement ‘Critical Race Theory’ also called CRT in our schools — not under that name nor any other name, nor will we be using the 1619 Project in our schools — not under than name nor any other name.”
The board’s three Democrats abstained from the vote.
WHAT IS CRT?
While not a new concept, critical race theory has become the latest flashpoint in the culture wars with states such as Idaho, Oklahoma and Tennessee banning its teaching in public schools, and other Republican-controlled states seeking to follow suit. The academic concept holds that racism is implicit in U.S. legal systems and policies. Critics say it paints the nation as racist and white people as oppressors, while supporters say it teaches a more accurate representation of American history and racial inequities that remain.
In May, Gov. Brian Kemp called on the Georgia Board of Education to ensure the “dangerous ideology” is not taught in public schools. In response, the state board passed a resolution opposing any use of public education resources to “indoctrinate” students in any political ideology or theory or accepting either federal or private funding that require teaching that anyone is inherently racist or inherently a victim of racism.
The 1619 Project, published by the New York Times in 2019, re-frames U.S. history as beginning in 1619, when the first African slaves were brought to the colonies, rather than in 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was signed.
The Cobb school board is not the first metro Atlanta school board to ban CRT. In May, the Cherokee County school board passed a resolution banning it, and the Forsyth County Board of Education said in a statement its school system would not teach the theory.
Prior to the vote, Leroy “Tre’” Hutchins, one of the board’s three Democrats, asked Scamihorn how he defines critical race theory and the 1619 Project.
“I’m not saying that these need to be in our schools,” Hutchins said, noting that “critical race theory can be interpreted a number of ways.”
Scamihorn said he did not have a definition of either term handy.
“Having not had that question presented to me in advance, so that I could do a more thorough answer, I’ll just say that the way the 1619 Project has been presented nationally and state wide, that it’s a revisionist history and that history should be thorough,” Scamihorn said.
Referring to Hutchins’ question, Democratic board member Charisse Davis said, “it’s clear we aren’t going to get any answers to that today.”
Reading from prepared remarks, Davis said it had become “very clear that politics are okay in our district, as long as they align with some people’s politics.
“Critical race theory has become a conservative talking point by people who have no idea what it is, and certainly weren’t worried about it for the past 40-plus years it’s been around,” she continued. District students, parents and staff have shared stories of racist incidents and assignments, and students of color are disciplined at disproportionate rates relative to their white peers, Davis said.
“Yet for all the outpouring of grief … there is no superintendent statement, there is no agenda item. And in fact, the board’s public comments have always been, ‘Where’s the proof?’ So I asked where’s the proof that CRT … (is) taking over our schools? … This is not a real thing that is happening in our schools.”
Scamihorn said there are instances on social media of Cobb school district educators saying they use critical race theory.
Jennifer Susko, a counselor at Mableton Elementary, has authored a post on theresponsivecounselor.com titled “Making Your School Counseling Lessons More Anti-Racist.” That post notes that she “uses Critical Race Theory and Culturally Relevant Teaching to create standards-aligned classroom lessons and small group curricula.”
And John Nwosu, a counselor at Garrett Middle School, said on a recent PBS News Hour segment that tenants of critical race theory are an important part of his job.
Board member David Chastain, a Republican, said the definition of CRT has been debated even at “The highest levels of academia.”
“Because of the confusion,” Chastain said, “I would adopt this resolution to put this to the side so we can focus on the things that are important to our kids. … I think we should be encouraging unity and that kind of diversity without trying to codify, and maybe more strictly define, the differences that some of us in this room have grown up trying to look beyond for most of our lifetime.”
During the public comment part of the school board’s afternoon work session, one person said critical race theory reminded him of Nazi ideology. Another suggested members of the Cobb school board were racist for opposing it. A third said local debate over the concept has been “disappointing and discouraging.”
“Unfortunately, as of late, the arguments of CRT have become so large and irrationally heated, that very few people are even on the same page (as to) what falls under the critical race theory umbrella,” Mary Killeen said.
West Cobb resident Ania Sierdzinska recalled growing up in communist Poland and being taught to hate the United States. That hatred was not dispelled until she moved here when she was 25 years old.
“I am the mother of two young girls,” she said. “I do not want them to be raised in the country hating it because they are white.”
Retired neurosurgeon Michael Amaral said he thought it reminiscent of Nazi ideology.
“If I understand critical race theory correctly, it says that there is intrinsic discrepancy in the social and economic system that prevent minorities from getting a good position and so on and so forth. What the Nazis were saying was exactly the same about the Jews,” he said.
Others who spoke criticized the board for taking aim at critical race theory.
Ronda Shepard, whose daughter attends Wheeler High School — named after a Confederate general — blasted the board’s Republicans for an unwillingness to discuss race under other circumstances.
“The board has not recognized race all year. We’ve come to talk to you about Wheeler name change, we’ve come to talk to you about equity … but when people of color come and want to address race, we get no recognition, we get no response to our emails, we get no response to our presentations, we get no meetings,” she said. “But when non-people-of-color come and they want to talk about race, now it’s on the agenda, and I have a problem with that. And if that’s not racist in-and-of-itself, then you should have a problem with it, too.”
Susko, the counselor at Mableton Elementary, said the resolution would “downplay the effects of racism in U.S. history.” Anticipating the board’s vote, she said “in a moment, we’ll watch all white people telling Black people that racism is not that big of a deal.”
In a Facebook post earlier this week, Susko called for protesters to gather outside the district headquarters at 4 p.m. Thursday, after the board’s work session and before its evening voting session. The Cobb GOP sent an email Thursday morning encouraging people to sign up to speak against CRT during the public comment period of the evening voting session.
As board members discussed the resolution during their afternoon session, Hutchins said he was worried about “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” and scrapping district programs that resemble “these uninformed definitions of what CRT is,” such as social/emotional learning modules.
“That’s the danger of … not having a definition,” he continued, “because now we can throw anything into it (and) say it’s CRT because we heard it on the radio or we saw it on TV.”
Scamihorn said Hutchins was “conflating” CRT with district programs and accused him of “besmirching” district teachers.
As the board’s discussion came to a close, Democrat Dr. Jaha Howard said it was a “sad day for our district.”
“This is clearly a coddling and pampering of white supremacist ideology, which is consistent with some of our worst habits,” he said, “and I hope that we will take the opportunity to correct course.”
But Scamihorn had the final say.
“It just amazes me how we use such extreme language … and I am offended by some of the language,” he said. “But you’re entitled to use it, so we listen to it.”
MDJ senior reporter Thomas Hartwell and The State contributed to this report.