A large group of citizens attended the Park Rapids School Board’s meeting Monday, Aug. 23 to voice their concern about the updated social studies curriculum being developed by the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE).
It was standing-room-only in the boardroom at the Frank White Education Center during the public participation portion of the meeting.
Char Christenson read a statement connecting recent updates in social studies standards with Critical Race Theory (CRT), which she said undermines students' family values and religion and creates racial divisions.
Acknowledging a statement by the MDE denying that their curricula include CRT, Christenson said, “However, the proposed standards seem to diminish the greatness of America and the role America has played across the world.”
For example, she said, the standards:
Lack mention of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln or the Emancipation Proclamation, while the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights is referenced four times.
Present capitalism and communism as different ways to accomplish the same goals, without any context about the destructive effects of communism and socialism.
Focus on struggles for liberation without discussing the U.S.’s role in advancing liberty around the world and opposing fascism and imperialism.
Ignored the Holocaust in their first draft, and in the second draft invited students to explore “alternative narratives.”
Define ethnic studies as understanding “multiple perspectives,” such as depicting colonization as inherently oppressive and discriminatory.
Analyze society in terms of systemic oppression and discrimination against various group identities.
Draw a connection between capitalism and racial oppression.
“I would like to know the administration and board’s stance on the Critical Race Theory that’s being taught,” said Christenson. “If you’re against it, how you will enforce the teaching of the true American history to the students, and also how – so many of the teachers that have learned this Critical Race Theory throughout their education – how you will prevent them from teaching it here.”
She also asked the school board to set a date to publish their answer.
School board chair Sherry Safratowich said the MDE received feedback from 17,000 residents during its most recent public comment period about the social studies standards.
Speaking for herself, Safratowich said she doesn’t think it is appropriate to teach “theory” at a primary or secondary level.
Both Safratowich and Superintendent Lance Bagstad assured meeting attendees the standards revision process is still underway and urged citizens to continue giving grassroots feedback.
Bagstad acknowledged that rural Minnesota has a different outlook from the metro area and stressed the district’s commitment to careful curriculum review, checks and balances and local control.
Interim curriculum director Jill Stevenson explained that new standards are subject to review by a local curriculum review committee, then the World’s Best Workforce committee and finally the school board.
School board member Dennis Dodge also voiced support for teaching “true history” and opposition to tearing down monuments.
Board member Clayton Hoyt added that he trusts the local process to achieve what works for the Park Rapids area.
‘Your feedback makes a difference’
Audience member Heidi Albee asked whether the school could go to an alternate curriculum if the MDE approves the proposed standards.
Sally Shearer asked whether the MDE could put teeth in a mandate for the new curriculum, such as denying state funding for schools that don’t implement it.
Stevenson again stressed that the review process is still underway and the standards likely won’t be implemented until 2025 or later. “Your feedback makes a difference,” she said. “The standards revision process is not over. It is going into a third draft, and there will be time for your voices to be heard.”
Albee suggested installing cameras in classrooms to observe whether teachers are pushing an unapproved agenda and whether the district would enforce its local standards. Bagstad and Safratowich replied that complaints will be investigated, following a chain of command from discussing the issue with the teacher, up to the principal, the superintendent and the school board if necessary.
“As a high school teacher here in Park Rapids, I can say we do not teach CRT in our school,” said high school social studies teacher Thomas Coborn “and if we were ever forced to, I could not with good conscience teach it. I'm a veteran and I think there are a lot better things we should be focusing on rather than people's skin color.”
The audience applauded Coborn’s remarks.