Griffin Spalding County Schools Board of Education public comment section clashes over critical race theory

Community members sparred over critical race theory being taught in Griffin-Spalding County Schools during public comment at a Board of Education meeting Tuesday.

Despite Superintendent Keith Simmons’ previous declaration that critical race theory is not taught in the district, a clear division formed as members of the public expressed their opinions at the podium. The majority of speakers were very against the theory, as well any related ideas being taught in GSCS schools, with fewer speakers on the other side.

“This is your school system; we can show you and tell you what we are doing is not no secret,” Board Chair Zachery Holmes said. “Let’s not be bickering back and forth at each other because who’s going to win? We are here for our kids.”

Board Chair, Zachery Holmes

Holmes said the board was happy to see a large turnout for the meeting, but the community should take advantage of communication opportunities with the superintendent, board members, and teachers to learn what is really being taught in GSCS schools.

Critical race theory is an intellectual movement that examines U.S. history from a lens that recognizes that systemic racism is a part of American society, according to Columbia University. It is taught in higher education, such as law and graduate school.

Although the public comment was open for any topic of discussion, every speaker talked about critical race theory or race-related issues.

Stanley Atkins, the father of a rising Spalding High School senior, said he has conversations with his son about race and systemic racism often and it is important for people to recognize their implicit biases. 

“It is imperative that we teach our children when they were younger, it is imperative that we drill into their mindset that we have to be open-minded,” Atkins said.

Andrea Bankston, an educator, agreed. She said many people who oppose critical race theory and similar ideas are misled by misinformation

“To actually understand what critical race theory is, the student has to be able to think at a higher complex level, which usually occurs in adulthood — hence why it is taught at the graduate level and taught in law school,” Bankston said. “The information that critical race theory is in public education — K-12 — that is inaccurate information.”

Andrea Bankston

Bankston said the assertion that the Georgia Standards of Excellence are infused with ideas from critical race theory is false. 

The last time these standards were updated — to include six new middle school dual language immersion courses and a Spanish for native speakers level three course — was 2019, according to the website.

Patricia Wilson, a community member who said she took off work to speak, said critical race theory being taught in school could lead to white students being belittled for their race. She said it will lead to children of all races feeling less than for their race.

“I hope that you all will nip this in the bud and do not allow this in our schools,” Wilson said. “And I would hope that the people here would call Gov. (Brian) Kemp, tell him to ban this so we don’t have to keep coming to fight this.”

Patricia Wilson

Kemp wrote a letter May 20 to the Georgia State Board of Education that urged members to take “immediate steps” to ban the teaching of critical race theory in Georgia. The Board responded June 3 with a five-page resolution, asserting that “no state education, school district, or school shall teach or instruct concepts regarding race in the classroom that makes an individual feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.”

David Graves, a community member, said he doesn’t believe the U.S. is systemically racist. He said white people who died in the civil war to eliminate slavery prove that not all white people are racist.

“We need to try real hard — all of us — to work together to put racism behind us and become a single community,” Graves said. “America is bigger and it’s stronger and it’s better than racism. Critical race theory I think takes us in the other direction.”

Yashanda Jones, a parent and community member, said she doesn’t understand why people are speaking against critical race theory because Simmons previously addressed the matter. She said the theory has become an “election talking point.”

“I think it’s said that people are being forced to revolve around or outright reject blatant lies about CRT (critical race theory),” Jones said. “I think it’s easy to reject a notion where you don’t have the Black skin that’s being discriminated against.

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