Utah Legislature Passes Resolutions On Critical Race Theory
Critical Race Theory is a hot-button issue, stirring up conversation throughout Utah and the nation. With the Utah Special Session now in full swing, lawmakers have proposed resolutions addressing the topic.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox called the legislators to meet for the first special session of 2021 earlier this week. Cox authorized 22 issues to be considered during the session and didn’t include Critical Race Theory on the list.
But Utah Lawmakers decided to move forward with the issue in the form of a resolution, which are generally used to show the legislature’s intent or position on a topic. The Senate and the House introduced separate, identical resolutions because it wasn’t on Cox’s call.
CRT is not part of Utah’s current curriculum. And the resolutions make recommendations to the Utah State Board of Education to prohibit teaching certain concepts in the future. They say CRT “degrades important societal values,” which would harm students’ learning.
But what is Critical Race Theory?
There are a number of definitions, one says CRT looks at how race and racism has played a role in our society both in the past and present. It holds, in part, that racism is rooted in American life and law as a social construct.
The Utah Education Equity Coalition, a community activist organization, is a proponent of CRT and held a press conference Thursday morning. Speaking during the conference, Michelle Love-Day, an educator for more than 20 years, said critical and crucial conversations about race help build bridges to understand other’s experiences.
"You cannot claim things that are not happening just because you personally haven't experienced them, or have one or two friends that claim it's not there," Love-Day said. "Everyone has different experiences. And taking away an opportunity to talk about those experiences is reckless and harmful."
Speaking on the Senate floor Thursday, bill sponsor Lincoln Fillmore said he couldn’t find a clear definition of CRT, so his resolution creates clear guidelines for school districts.
"Since there is no governing body that determines what Critical Race Theory is or is not, anything can be ascribed to Critical Race Theory," Fillmore said. "The state board of education wants to do, and what we are asking it to do is use its constitutional power to create the boundaries by which schools can appropriately discuss race history, race relations in our country and our culture, but do not include concepts that judge student's moral character based solely on their race."
Wasatch Back Sen. Ron Winterton voted in favor of the Senate Resolution.
And on the House floor, Summit County Republican Rep. Kera Birkeland voted in favor of the resolution. She told KPCW in an interview earlier this month that she feels history, including racism, should be taught objectively.
"It needs to be taught as this is what America allowed to happen for some time - to make sure we never go back to that," Birkeland said. "And so while I completely stand behind the fact that there is some awful behavior towards people, and yes, I do believe they are racially profiled and pulled over simply because of the color of their skin. I don’t think that we need that taught in the classrooms today, as much as we just need schools to talk about the factual history of our nation."
And Republican Rep. Mike Kohler, who represents Wasatch County, also supported the ban on CRT. He told KPCW the resolution is basically non-binding and that CRT should be reserved for late high school and college age students, who are able to “compare” their learning with real life experiences.
Both resolutions passed the House and Senate on party-line votes, with all present republicans voting for the resolutions. All Senate Democrats voted against it, and House Democrats walked off the floor refusing to participate in the debate.