Dallas ISD trustees met in a special called meeting Monday afternoon to discuss two resolutions that address legislation headed to the statehouse floor — including a bill that will bar schools from teaching Critical Race Theory.
“This would gut many of the items that we care so much about in the racial equity policy that the board passed unanimously and a lot of the training that the board has participated in, and we would even be prohibited from hiring external consultants to help do the training,” Dallas ISD superintendent Michael Hinojosa told the board. “I’m concerned that we would have to change some courses and the master schedules would have to be changed for next year.”
Hinojosa pointed out that the margin a bill passes on impacts when it goes into effect – by a wide margin, it can go into effect immediately. If not, it would go into effect in September.
“But for all practical purposes, it would have a huge impact on us.”Michael Hinojosa
“But for all practical purposes,” he said, “it would have a huge impact on us.”
“I’m very proud of this district, not only in style but in the substance of where we’ve gone in our racial equity initiative, and much of that has been due to the strong, committed direction and leadership of the school board,” he said. “This is something that you should be very proud of, and it’s very much in jeopardy at this point.”
Attorney David Thompson, who advises the board on legal matters, said several districts have expressed opposition to the bill.
“If the bill simply impedes the teaching of difficult and potentially controversial but important subjects, then that’s going to be troublesome for many districts in the state,” he said, adding that what is concerning many is that nobody is sure what the potential impact of the bills will be.
The latter resolution comes on the same day that House Bill 3979, authored by State Rep. Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands), is expected to come to a vote. It is the companion bill to Senate Bill 2202, authored by State Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe). Both seek to discourage discussion of current events or controversial public policy issues in classrooms.
“Texans reject critical race theory and other so-called ‘woke’ philosophies that maintain that one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex or that any individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said when endorsing the legislation.
While the bills do address discussions about race (without a definition of Critical Race Theory), they also go several steps further, prohibiting students from getting class credit for participating in “social or public policy advocacy” such as lobbying work or other political activism, banning districts from getting private funding for social studies curriculum development and teacher training, and other potential training in diversity, equity, and inclusion.
What is Critical Race Theory?
Monday afternoon, trustees acknowledged that the term “critical race theory” was used a lot, but that it seemed like many didn’t actually know what it entailed.
“The crux is, how do you define this thing?” Trustee Edwin Flores said. “We don’t know.”
“I hear a lot of partisan banter about critical race theory, but it seems to mean something different to everybody you talk to – which is strange because it’s actually rooted in history and originated in some legal writings … but I don’t get the sense that this is how the term is used by folks at both ends of the left and the right,” said Trustee Dustin Marshall. “I was wondering if there is any consensus definition, if you will, of what the term means to the folks in Austin?”
“I don’t think the term is defined in the bill,” Thompson said. “It obviously does have an origin in some academic writings, but I think that is part of the concern about the bills, is exactly what does it extend to?”
“History is first facts. But it is second a point of view about those facts, and it is third, how do we synthesize those facts into a current understanding of our situation today? And I think the big controversy is the middle one of those.”David Thompson
“History is first facts,” he added. “But it is second a point of view about those facts, and it is third, how do we synthesize those facts into a current understanding of our situation today? And I think the big controversy is the middle one of those.”
Marshall said that the partisan nature of the discussion also likely contributed to the confusion.
“I would agree that this discussion is heavily, heavily partisanized, and when you hear folks on the right talk about this, there is terminology used that I would absolutely disagree with, which is that if we’re teaching critical race theory, we’re telling all of our students that white men are responsible for every terrible thing that happened in the world, and that every white man is a racist, and that we’re attacking the character of every white person that ever lived. I think that’s wrong. I think if you ask people on the far left of the debate, they’ll tell you the opposite, and I think that’s not right either.”
“When people ask me if we’re teaching Critical Race Theory in Dallas ISD schools, I tell them ‘No, we’re not – we’re having a healthy discussion about history and about facts and about how our society got to where it is today – and now there are institutional barriers to opportunity for Black and brown kids. And if we need to have that conversation by teaching African American history in our schools, I think that’s a good thing, not blaming the white man for every bad thing that ever existed, as some on the far right would have you believe.”
” … if we need to have that conversation by teaching African American history in our schools, I think that’s a good thing, not blaming the white man for every bad thing that ever existed, as some on the far right would have you believe.”Dustin Marshall
“It’s HIS-story – because a lot of the time the history of African Americans and Native Americans and Latinos is not in the public education system,” Trustee Joyce Foreman said. “I’m a strong supporter of people knowing their history, and being able to act on knowing their history, because I believe that one’s history actually helps define one as they become proud of who they are.”
(See also: What is Critical Race Theory? Here is a good primer.)
What the bill’s author says
After alluding to the book Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness, Toth said that “this book was recommended to students by teachers in Highland Park Independent School District near Dallas.”
Last month, HPISD spokesperson Jon Dahlander discussed the book and said it “is not listed in any of our school library catalogs, nor have we been able to find it on any of our campuses.”
“The lead librarian at MIS/HPMS does not recall seeing the book or ordering the book,” he added.
Toth thanked Houston’s Dick Weekley and Dallas’ Harlan Crow “for their invaluable collaboration on House Bill 3979 and for generously providing each Member with a testament to the bill’s necessity.” People Newspapers has reached out to Crow to find out the scope of his assistance with the bill.
Toth also explained his bill.
“House Bill 3979 seeks to resolve prejudice and bigotry in public teaching by proscribing hateful classroom activities and a racially discriminatory curriculum,” he wrote. “My bill explicitly rejects the shameful notion that purports an individual’s moral character or culpability are determined on the basis of skin color.
“Since 2010, suicide rates among kids age 10-14 has exploded from below 0.9 to 2 per hundred thousand. Race-shaming our kids, due to the color of their skin will only exacerbate a terrible situation.”Steve Toth
“Since 2010, suicide rates among kids age 10-14 has exploded from below 0.9 to 2 per hundred thousand. Race-shaming our kids, due to the color of their skin will only exacerbate a terrible situation,” he added. “It’s high time we recommit to fulfilling the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King by teaching our children that they ought to be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. That journey begins in the home and in the classroom.”
People Newspapers reached out to Toth’s office for clarification on any data linking discussions about race with an uptick in the youth suicide rate. We also asked if he was aware of data regarding youth suicide and transgender youth, in light of his authorship of HB 68, which seeks to criminalize doctors and parents who provide gender-affirming care to transgender youth.
His office has not responded.
The American Academy of Pediatrics in 2019 published a policy statement regarding the impact of racism on child and adolescent health that discussed the impact racism had on mental and physical health.
“Failure to address racism will continue to undermine health equity for all children, adolescents, emerging adults, and their families,” the statement said. “ Today’s children, adolescents, and emerging adults are increasingly diverse. Strategies to address health and developmental issues across the pediatric life span that incorporate ethnicity, culture, and circumstance are critical to achieving a reduction in health disparities.
“Racism is a core social determinant of health that is a driver of health inequities.”
The Hogg Foundation for Mental Health agreed, stating that “racism a public health crisis, but it is also a mental health crisis.”
The bills have garnered a great deal of opposition statewide and locally, including the League of Women Voters, North Dallas Chamber of Commerce, the Texas PTA, Big Thought, most education and teacher groups, several school districts (including Richardson ISD and Fort Worth ISD), the North Texas Commission, and the Dallas Regional Chamber of Commerce.
“We share the concerns raised by Independent School Districts about these bills, which would discourage civic engagement and discussion of current events in the classroom,” the NDCC said in a letter to House Public Education Committee chair Harold Dutton. “Additionally, we are also concerned about the pre-emptive nature of these bills, which would take authority away from local elected trustees and administrators appointed by those trustees.”
The Education Trust also registered its opposition to the bills. Dallas resident Jonathan Feinstein, who serves as the organization’s state director, said that people should be alarmed at not just the dampening of discussions around racism and sexism, but also the peril it places social studies and history curriculum in as well.
“When I see this bill, I see a bill that, underneath the language, is designed really to close those conversations and to weaponize those who feel uncomfortable or discomforted by these challenging conversations,” he said. “What I have seen is a pretty detailed review of the social studies TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) and the ways in which those standards actually instruct and encourage teachers to help students connect to current events and real-world examples around them. That is educational best practice. The way we make learning relevant is by talking about the things that students are encountering or experiencing in their own lives.”
“The way we make learning relevant is by talking about the things that students are encountering or experiencing in their own lives.”Jonathan Feinstein
And while some have argued that conversations about race and sexism should happen at home, not at school, Feinstein said that both are firmly entrenched in the country’s history.
“We have a longstanding and foundational belief that public education has a charge to help establish an informed citizenry that is able to govern itself,” he said. “And there are legitimate concerns about the status of our democracy and the need for engaged and informed citizenship.
it seems to be saying schools actually don’t have — and teachers don’t have — a responsibility to actually engage in the issues of the day to help students have experiential learning opportunities so that they don’t just read about founding documents but actually opportunities to actually experience what it means to participate.
Will it pass?
Feinstein said his organization is keeping a close watch on the debate around the bill, but he holds out little hope that it won’t pass if it comes to a vote Monday night.
“We’ve done a lot of office visits the last couple of weeks on this bill and there are lots of Republicans who
“I hope to be pleasantly surprised, but I’m not optimistic.”