FORT WORTH, Texas — Fewer than 15 minutes into Tuesday evening’s Fort Worth school board meeting, one woman had to be removed. As police escorted her out of the packed auditorium, she screamed, “Stop whitewashing history!”
Though there was no agenda item for the discussion of critical race theory, the topic dominated the public comment period of the meeting. For more than two hours, dozens of people filed to the podium to alternately support the district’s work on equity and passionately decry the suddenly controversial, decades-old academic framework that explores how racism is embedded in U.S. policies and systems.
The protest was organized by former student Carlos E Turcios, who also organized The March Against Critical Race Theory earlier in the day. Turcios was appointed to the district’s Racial Equity Committee by long-tenured board member Tobi Jackson, who was unanimously voted board president at Tuesday night’s meeting.
“We flooded the FWISD School Board again,” Turcios said in a social media post. “No to CRT. We need a different approach to [sic] helping our Black and Hispanic students. Not CRT. We need to empower them by emphasizing the importance of having a family, individualism, appreciation, learning entrepreneurship skills, and more. Glad I was able to help lead this event.”
Critical race theory is not taught in Fort Worth ISD, said spokesman Clint Bond.
Conservative pundits have recently turned the term into a political controversy. Several states, including Texas, have attempted to legislate the teaching of CRT out of Texas schools. Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law a bill last week that restricts how current events and America’s history of racism can be taught in Texas schools. It’s been commonly referred to as the “critical race theory” bill, though the term “critical race theory” never appears in it.
In signing the measure, Abbott said “more must be done” to “abolish critical race theory in Texas” and announced that he would ask the legislature to address the issue during a special session this summer.
Meanwhile, the debate has taken hold across the nation. Last year, conservative activist Christopher Rufo began using the term “critical race theory” publicly to denounce anti-racist education efforts. Since then, conservative lawmakers, commentators and parents have raised alarms that critical race theory is being used to teach children that they are racist and that the U.S. is a racist country with irredeemable roots.
Sen. Ted Cruz and others have called the theory racist itself for centering the nation’s story on racial conflict. In addition, conservative commentator Gerard Baker has argued that critical race theory bans critical thought in favor of what resembles religious instruction.
Tuesday night’s Fort Worth school board meeting was one of the first of many public roils likely to flame up in the aftermath of that legislation Abbott signed into law.
Former school board member Ashley Paz, who chose not to run for reelection in May, said there is a massive misunderstanding surrounding the concept.
“Critical race theory is a graduate-level legal framework,” she said. “It is not something that you teach in K through 12 education. “I think that what has happened is that critical race theory has become a catch-all term.”
Opponents often conflate the theory with districts’ broader diversity and inclusion efforts, anti-racism training or multicultural curricula. In doing so, school district boardrooms have become a central battleground in this culture war, even as the central issue is often misunderstood.
Fort Worth ISD staffers have been trained in a system called “Beyond Diversity,” which aims to help people understand their own implicit biases. During the last session, the legislature passed a law that forbids school districts from requiring this training.
Although the district doesn’t teach CRT and staff are no longer required to have certain kinds of diversity training, a few parents threatened to leave the district over this fight. They accused the district of indoctrinating students and making students feel like they are “oppressed or oppressors” based on their skin color.
“We are teaching our students that they are labeled by the color of their skin,” one speaker told the board.
One concerned parent read a letter from an eighth-grader.
“My eighth-grade English teacher taught us for the first two weeks how awful white men are,” the man read. “For two weeks, I didn’t speak a single word in class. My fellow white male classmates left the classroom feeling the same way. Those teachings made me feel like worthless scum unworthy of living. My white male classmates were constantly using the pronoun ‘we’ when talking about slavery. Eventually I had to raise my hand and remind them that we were not and are not a part of those despicable acts.”
“People don’t realize how strongly that affects boys in an extremely negative way,” the speaker concluded to thunderous applause.
A longtime educator addressed the board on behalf of another teacher and parent.
“The notion that educating our professionals on how systemic racism operated in every facet of society in our nation’s history and still affects us today — the notion that in itself is racist would be laughable if it weren’t so troubling,” he said.
"As a society, we must have honest dialogue about race and be ready when our students want to have those discussions in the classroom,” he continued.