A handful of Democratic lawmakers praised the Utah State Board of Education’s resolution “denouncing racism and embracing equity in Utah schools” while some Republicans voiced concern during an Education Interim Committee meeting on Wednesday.
The resolution, which the state school board unanimously approved earlier this month, states that the school board “firmly denounces racism in any form in our schools and in our education system and embraces principles of equity and justice for all.”
It also states that “racism can be unconscious or unintentional, and identifying racism as an issue does not necessarily mean that those involved in the act are racist or that any negative impact was intended” and “education should create hope and inclusion while avoiding divisive theories about race or ethnicity.”
“We should look forward, not with despair and hopelessness, but with thoughtful optimism for continued, concerted efforts by educators, students, families and communities to live up to the ideals of equality and unity expressed in the United States Constitution, the Utah Constitution, and civil rights laws,” the resolution reads.
Those resolutions recommended that the state school board review standards for curriculum and ensure that no curriculum teach that “one race is inherently superior or inferior to another race,” that an individual’s moral character is determined by the individual’s race or that “an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of the individual’s race.”
During Wednesday’s Education Interim Committee meeting, Scott Hansen, chair of the school board’s Standards and Assessment Committee, told lawmakers that “we didn’t leave this just to denouncing racism, we thought about all of our students and embraced equity at this time.”
“So we haven’t been afraid to look and see where there are issues that need to be addressed,” said Hansen. “And those issues really have centered around educational equity.”
Rep. Adam Robertson, R-Provo, said he didn’t understand why skin color was being looked at as a “determining factor” for how a student is treated, adding that he believed socioeconomic factors play a bigger role than race.
“I’m worried about obsession based on skin color,” said Robertson. “And I think that’s fundamentally racist.”
Hansen responded, “The focus is not on race. The focus is on equity in education.”
Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, said he “would be hard-pressed to come up with a better” resolution but added that he was concerned that resources could be denied to struggling white students on the basis of race.
“And therefore, because of the group that this person belongs to based on the color of his skin, all other things being equal, this student is given extra resources and another student is denied those resources,” Fillmore said.
“That is not the case,” said Hansen. “I don’t see any evidence in any of our education system, where what you’re stating could happen (or) is happening. And it’s not the intent of our education equity definition.”
Rep. Melisa Ballard, R-North Salt Lake, asked whether Utah educators would be allowed to teach about The 1619 Project, a controversial New York Times initiative examining the legacy of racism in the U.S. Hansen said they would be.
“No, these ideas aren’t banned,” he said. “But they need to be, if they’re brought up in a classroom, it needs to be age-appropriate, and it needs to be presented in a neutral manner by the teacher.”
Multiple Democratic lawmakers praised school board officials for drafting and approving the resolution, including Murray Rep. Karen Kwan, who said, “You thought about it critically, thoughtfully, purposefully.”
“I look at this in this presentation and think how hard it must have been to wade through the hysteria and craft something that is so universally accepted,” added Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy.
Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 801-344-2599.