Missouri GOP lawmakers want special session to restrict ‘critical race theory’ in schools

Tim Bommel/House Communications
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Missouri Gov. Mike Parson can add critical race theory (CRT) and The New York Times 1619 Project to the list of issues for which lawmakers are asking him to convene a special legislative session.

Two Missouri legislators who chair education committees sent him a letter Wednesday asking for a session so they can pursue measures to restrict CRT and 1619-related materials from being taught in public schools.

Critical race theory, a body of academic study that examines how race and inequality impact American institutions, has become one of the latest fronts in the culture war. Missouri was among about a dozen states where lawmakers have pursued such bans this year. GOP governors have signed critical race theory bans in public schools in Tennessee, Idaho and Oklahoma.

Academics told The Star this week critical race theory is not widely taught in elementary and secondary schools, but that its concepts can be used in classrooms to examine the role of racism in society or to read the texts of marginalized writers.

Rep. Chuck Basye, a Rocheport Republican, and Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, a Shelbina Republican, wrote in their letter to Parson that curricula implementing critical race theory or The 1619 Project, a 2019 New York Times Magazine initiative that examined the role of slavery in America’s founding, are “radical concepts” and “divisive and unnecessary.”

Kansas City Public Schools is among the districts that will begin teaching from a 1619 Project-based curriculum this summer. District spokeswoman Kelly Wachel said this week that the efforts to ban the curriculum this spring were an “unworthy attempt to squash diverse and inclusive conversation and learning.”

Including the letter from Basye and O’Laughlin, there are now about a half-dozen topics for which lawmakers want to see a special session.

A session is needed for congressional redistricting, and one could be called to add money to the state budget, whether for Medicaid expansion or to spend federal COVID-19 aid. House Republicans have asked for a special session on election bills, including stricter voter ID measures. On Wednesday, Kansas City Northland Republicans asked Parson for a session to allow them to push bills restricting local officials’ moves to control part of the Kansas City police budget. And Shrewsbury Democrat Sarah Unsicker on Wednesday asked Parson to call a session to renew a medical provider tax that props up wide swaths of the Medicaid program.

In Missouri, Black Democratic lawmakers and other critics this spring called anti-CRT measures censorship and an attempt to gloss over historical American injustices such as slavery. Proponents said the measure stopped the teaching of “revisionist history” and that the curricula wrongly portrayed America as inherently racist.

The Missouri bill received an acrimonious 90-minute debate in the House of Representatives before it was tabled in April. It targeted The 1619 Project specifically but also broadly banned critical race theory, which it defined as any teaching materials that use “immutable, inherited, or objective characteristics such as race, income, appearance, family of origin, or sexual orientation” for the purpose of “defining a person’s ‘identity,’” or “assigning blame to categories of persons.”

Teaching materials that identified “people, entities, or institutions as inherently, immutably, or systemically sexist, racist, biased, privileged, or oppressed” would also have been forbidden.

Basye, chair of the House Elementary and Secondary Education committee, sponsored a bill this year to ban transgender student athletes from playing on sports teams that match their gender.

The critical race theory bill was debated right after his bill, both as proposed amendments to unrelated education legislation. Neither were called for a final vote in the House.

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