Nevada has become the latest flashpoint in a national debate over how to teach students about racism and its role in U.S. history, with parents clashing over curriculum proposals.
People wore MAGA hats and waved signs outside a packed school board meeting this week in Reno, while trustees considered expanding K-5 curriculum to include more teaching about equity, diversity and racism.
Opponents say the proposal would lead to the teaching of “critical race theory,” which seeks to reframe the narrative of American history. Critics say such lesson plans teach students to hate the United States.
A conservative group even suggested outfitting teachers with body cameras to ensure they aren’t indoctrinating children with such lessons.
“You guys have a serious problem with activist teachers pushing politics in the classroom, and there’s no place for it, especially for our fifth graders,” Karen England, Nevada Family Alliance executive director, told Washoe County School District trustees Tuesday.
District officials there and in Carson City, where a similar debate is playing out, say critical race theory is not part of their plans.
The clashes mirror fights underway throughout the U.S.
In GOP-controlled statehouses, lawmakers have passed measures prohibiting the teaching of critical race theory, a reaction to the nation’s racial reckoning after last year’s police killing of George Floyd.
Nevada has bucked that trend. Gov. Steve Sisolak signed legislation this week to add multicultural education to social studies curriculum standards and teach students about the historic contributions of members of additional racial and ethnic groups.
Dr. Jonathan Moore, deputy superintendent of Nevada’s education agency, said the laws clarified social studies “content themes,” which already included concepts like social justice and diversity. The standards do not include critical race theory, which draws a line from slavery and segregation to contemporary inequities and argues racism remains embedded in laws and institutions.
Meanwhile, the black mother of a mixed-race student is suing a Las Vegas charter school over a “Sociology of Change” course that covers the concept of privilege as it pertains to race, gender and sexual orientation.
In Reno, the Washoe County School District arranged overflow rooms and set up loudspeakers outside Tuesday’s school board meeting to accommodate a large crowd.
Opponents gathered outside carrying signs that read “No CRT,” “CRT teaches racism” and “The School Board works for the people!”
“You say there’s no CRT (critical race theory) in this curriculum,” Sparks resident Bruce Parks told trustees. “It is being taught in our schools right now. When you use words and language like ‘white male privilege,’ ‘systemic racism,’ that’s straight out of CRT.”
On the other side of the entrance, students, parents and teachers wore green T-shirts and carried signs with slogans including “Amplify Student Voices” to signify support for “Washoe County School District Students for Change,” a group that has pushed for curriculum additions.
“These are systemic issues, and they’ve been here for a long time. But I think the protests last year really gave light to how divided people were and how polarized people were,” said Michael Arreygue, a college student who attended Washoe County schools. “There’s people who don’t want to acknowledge that these problems exist — that there is systemic racism and injustice.”
Superintendent Kristen McNeill recommended the district form a task force to review curriculum instead of implementing the plan. The board approved the task force on Wednesday.
In Carson City, a proposal to incorporate concepts like equity into the strategic plan raised concerns about how schools broach the topic of race.
At a Tuesday school board meeting, parent Jason Tingle said he was worried when he heard talk about critical race theory in schools.
But he reviewed district materials and concluded the fears were unfounded.
“I’ve yet to see anything in the curriculum that shows that we are actually going to take a hardcore approach to critical race theory,” said Tingle, who has four children enrolled in district schools.
“Until our kids come home and show us something different or tell us something different, then we should keep our faith in the school district and let them do what they were sent here to do.”
Sam Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.