Utah State Board of Education’s rule on equity in schools must change, groups say

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah State Board of Education heard from organizations and members of the public on Thursday on a council-approved rule that would set the standard for fairness education, diversity and inclusion in schools.

R277-328 Equity in education in schools requires that school districts provide training on equity, diversity and inclusion for teachers, as well as education for students. It leaves the specifics and details beyond that to individual school districts.

Five organizations have officially called for a public hearing on the rule: the Utah Education Association, the Academic Integrity Movement, the Mormon Women for Ethical Government, the Utah Ethnic Studies Coalition, and the Utah Citizens for Positive Change.

Each of these groups, as well as the House Democratic Caucus, had time to present their thoughts in detail. After that, several members of the audience stepped in with shorter comments, in person and virtually.

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Utah Education Association president Heidi Matthews explained that she appreciates the efforts of the State Board of Ed and they support the rule. However, she and Dr Sara Jones, UEA’s director of excellence in education and government relations, explained why they don’t think the rule should go into effect as is.

“Our goal today is to ensure that the rule does not create unintended negative consequences for educators, which could result in licensing penalties or disciplinary action simply for teaching the core standards adopted by the state or district program. adopted, “said Dr Jones.

She said the current version of the rule needs clarification, and she described the board.

The Movement for Academic Integrity took the floor in second place, with a different point of view. Jessica Fiveash from AIM made three recommendations to the board: revise R277-328, establish an advisory committee that includes local parent groups, and abide by resolutions passed by the House and Senate of the Legislative Assembly of Utah who are asking the USBE to ensure that Critical Race Theory is not taught in classrooms.

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“Keep the rule’s focus on the intent of House and Senate resolutions, keeping critical race theory out of Utah schools,” Fiveash said. “The intention was to ensure that each student is taught according to their potential and not their race.”

Mormon Women for Ethical Government joined via Zoom, applauding USBE for “promoting teacher development.” Briawna Hugh also presented two proposed amendments, one of which asks the USBE to clarify that educators will not be burdened with undue accusations.

The Utah Ethnic Studies Coalition has also expressed that it thinks the rule needs to be amended.

The organization submitted a list of proposed changes and added more specific language to the rule.

Dr. Kathleen Christy said their goal is to strengthen core curriculum standards reflecting the background history and history of all students.

“Because in Utah, we proudly celebrate our pioneering heritage,” said Dr. Christy. “We want to integrate ethnic studies into the core Utah curriculum in a more explicit way to honor the beautiful diversity that defines Utah’s enduring heritage.”

The group explained that the rule contains a lot of terms saying that what should not be included in the development of the equity professions and that the needs for explanation should be included.

Utah Citizens for Positive Change have also called for the same rule changes as the Utah Ethnic Studies Coalition. The group made it clear that they supported the rule but wanted these changes.

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The USBE has received hundreds and hundreds of comments. Public records reveal 228 pages of public comments, with one to five comments on each page.

During in-person public commentary, many people shared personal stories regarding race and history in Utah schools. Some have made additional suggestions for amendments to the rule, including calling for protections for educators.

Others thought the rule was too vague and left too much room for interpretation.

Several people have brought up the controversy surrounding Critical Race Theory, telling USBE how dangerous they think it is.

USBE public relations director Mark Peterson said the board had never discussed the CRT. He said it had never been part of the discussion and was not part of state standards.

He stressed that the purpose of the rule is professional development and equity in the classroom.

“It would be professional development for teachers in each school district or charter school, would define their own professional development on it,” Peterson said. “And that sets some expectations for what equity and diversity looks like in the classroom.”

Peterson explained that the USBE will meet on August 5 to discuss the rule and any public comments received.

He described how this can now play out in one of three ways: the board can decide to adopt the rule as is, choose to make changes, or go back to the drawing board.

If the council passes the rule, it will come into effect on August 8.

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