Education

Johnston County Schools will punish teaching of systemic racism, critical race theory

Posted October 1, 2021 1:26 p.m. EDT
Updated October 15, 2021 9:09 a.m. EDT

Teachers could be punished for teaching about systemic racism or "undermining" foundational American documents — like the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights — according to a revised code of conduct document decided on by the Johnston County Board of Education Friday.

The Johnston County Board of Commissioners said over the summer that they would not approve the school board's funding until it would "adopt policies that eliminate the possibility of divisive teaching topics."

"No student or staff member shall be subjected to the notion that racism is a permanent component of American life," the revised code of conduct says. "No unequal value shall be placed on any race, gender, religion, ethnicity, social class, or any other identity group."

"When we adopted our budget, we withheld certain funds from the school board because we believe that teaching [Critical Race Theory] was harmful to our children and to our country," said commissioner Fred Smith Jr. on Monday.

Any teachers who fails to comply with the new ethics standards could be punished or dismissed, according to Policy Code 5100.

"No employee of Johnston County Schools will make any attempt to discredit the efforts made by all people using foundational documents for reform," the new code of ethics says.

The document was passed in a special called session on Friday morning, with almost no discussion. All of the Johnston County Board of Education members voted for the amended document, which they said had been in the works for months. Board member Kay Carroll was not present because he was out of town.

Carroll said that the policy changes were a "direct result of the critical race theory controversy and the threat from county commissioners to withhold full funding unless the policy pleased them." He opposed the new changes and says the board meeting was called last minute, which is why he wasn't able to attend.

Parents with the group, "JCPS Parents for Freedom," where happy with the new standards, though wrote on Facebook that the board didn't go far enough to ban the teachings of critical race theory, an academic framework used to look at how racial disparities affect government systems.

"It is a positive step in the right direction," said admin of the group, Heather Rainville. "I’m raising my children to love and give respect equally and to be good humans and any policy that does not teach them to divide and discriminate their peers is positive to me."

Bill Crocker, member of the activist organization Liberal People of Johnston County, said he was extremely disappointed with the board's decision.

"I know the intent is to pacify the Board of Commissioners unreasonable assertions that CRT or anything of the sort is actually being taught in our Johnston County schools. I strongly believe that this policy will be used to target teachers who do not bow to the conservative social pressure of whitewashing our history," he said in a message.

While the term critical race theory was not in the amended code of ethics, language in the document mirrors an anti-CRT bills going through the North Carolina house.

The ideas listed in the legislation are feared potential derivatives of the use of critical race theory in analyzing history and current events. Those include believing one race or sex is inherently superior and believing any individual should feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress” solely because of his or her race or sex.

In a section labeled Balance & Fairness, the code of ethics requires that teachers make sure "all people who contributed to American Society will be recognized and presented as reformists, innovators and heroes to our culture."

The code of ethics focuses on history teachings and American excellence. It doesn't allow any room for criticism of America's founding fathers, even though studies show nearly 55 million Native Americans were killed after Europeans arrived to the Americas in 1492.

On Tuesday morning, the North Carolina Association of Educators condemned the new policy, saying the board was "attempting to stroke fears, divide parents and communities, and discredit Johnston County’s hard-working teachers, yet all they are doing is hurting our children."

Public schools have been a battleground since the start of the pandemic, where questions about race and autonomy have played out. Johnston County Board of Education meetings have drawn crowds where parents have protested mask mandates and other coronavirus regulations.

Board members said that "diversity was present at the table in all different grade levels of teaching," when developing the document. The amendment was spearheaded by members Terri Sessoms and Ronald Johnson.

A spokesperson with the school district declined to answer any questions about specifics on what teachers could be punished for.

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