Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has not included anything that could be billed as “critical race theory” in its current curriculum, nor was the topic on the agenda for Tuesday’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) board meeting. Despite that fact, dozens of parents, teachers, and community members signed up to speak out on the topic during Tuesday’s public forum. Of the more than 80 speakers who addressed the board, critical race theory was by far the most popular topic of discussion. 

Critical race theory has become a buzzword phrase on the right of late, being misapplied to everything from diversity trainings to any curriculum that deals with the issues of race and racism in America. In reality, critical race theory, or CRT for short, is a decades-old framework that emerged out of legal and academic scholarship, which examines the role systemic racism has played, and continues to play, in American society, and how it can work to keep marginalized racial groups at a disadvantage. 

In addition to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools providing cultural competency training for staff, opponents pointed to the district’s $25,000 contract with author, historian, and anti-racist activist Ibram X. Kendi — who was the keynote speaker at the CMS 2021 online summer leadership conference — as a point of concern. Kendi recently told MSNBC that, while he admires critical race theory, he does not identify as a critical race theorist. 

“Systemic racism is currently being debated all over the country, so clearly not everyone believes that racism is ingrained in our very being and core values of our country,” said critical race theory opponent Jennifer Thompson at Tuesday’s meeting. “To teach about systemic racism as if it were a widely accepted fact is extremely biased.”

“We are opposed to labeling people as oppressors and victims solely based on the color of their skin,” said Lisa O’Brien, another opponent who spoke during Tuesday’s meeting. 

“Parents, beware of terms like ‘social justice,’ ‘diversity,’ ‘equity,’ ‘inclusion;’ those inherently good things are being used to disguise a biased political agenda, and sadly, even in some Christian schools,” O’Brien continued, drawing laughs from some in attendance.

Both Thompson and O’Brien took to the podium wearing shirts bearing the name of the organization Moms for Liberty, a conservative nonprofit founded by Tiffany Justice and Tina Descovich, two former school board members out of Florida.

The group, which has a Mecklenburg County chaptershared an edited clip from Tuesday’s board meeting on its Facebook page before the public forum had ended, celebrating those who attended to speak out against critical race theory. 

“Our moms are out in force tonight at North Carolina school board meetings standing up, speaking out and showing exactly what is wrong with CRT,” the caption reads. “This damaging ideology is racist and is causing division and hatred. It is our job as parents to stop (it) NOW.”

Stacy Staggs, a CMS parent who also spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, warned of how Moms for Liberty was taking advantage of a time in which the CMS Board of Ed may be off-balance thanks to recent rifts involving the county, a sexual assault scandal at Myers Park High School and ongoing COVID-19 concerns. 

“They’ve seized on the disarray of this leadership,” Staggs said of the conservative group, which she mockingly called “Moms for Racist Nonsense.” 

“They intend to drown all of our good work that’s being done here with the desperate throws to maintain white supremacy … I’m calling on you to rebuke their twisted extremism today before they enlist yet another board member into their astroturf campaign of misinformation.”

Kevin Gobuty, a CMS history teacher, was one of several educators who spoke out in defense of the school district and its current curriculum. 

“I believe that all students deserve honesty in education, rooted in facts and truth, even if those facts are difficult, and even if some of those truths about the history of North Carolina and the United States make us uncomfortable,” he said.

“Educators — trained professionals — know how to best design age-appropriate lessons for students, and help them grapple with difficult facts, while teaching them to be critical thinkers and lifelong learners,” he continued.

“The American tapestry is filled with many contradictions, failures, and successes, and to blind our students to the good, the bad, and the ugly of American history would be to do a disservice to our scholars, their parents, and the community at large.”

Amanda Thompson-Rice, also a teacher at CMS, spoke out against the misuse of “critical race theory” as an all-encompassing buzzword that doesn’t actually apply to anything taught in the district. 

“At CMS, we do culturally-responsive teaching, not critical race theory,” Thompson-Rice said. 

“Culturally-responsive teaching also allows students and educators to know that we belong,” she added. “The diversity of voices represented in our curriculum must match what our kids see in their communities and in our school buildings … The victor was feeling oppressed and created this superficial hysteria. For some, when you have become accustomed to privilege, the move towards equity feels like oppression.” 

The contentious meeting came less than a week after the NC State Board of Education voted 6-5 down party lines on July 8 to approve new K-12 social study optional guidance documents, to go into effect during the 2021-2022 school year. These documents include a list of suggested topics and assignments for middle schoolers and high schoolers that would teach students about the struggles of marginalized groups throughout American history. 

The board will still consider a proposal from Republican State Superintendent Catherine Truitt, who asked for “the opportunity to help re-shape these standards to ensure specificity, and to guarantee that North Carolina students walk away having learned the lessons of our past in order to help pave a brighter future for all.”

Any changes to the plan suggested by Truitt will need to be approved by the state board. 

On a recent episode of Queen City Nerve’s Nooze Hounds podcast, we spoke to NC State Board of Education member James E. Ford about the many topics that encompass the debate around critical race theory in schools. 

Additionally, the North Carolina General Assembly, in an ongoing effort led by the Republican majority, is one of a number of state legislative bodies considering banning critical race theory from being taught to K-12 students in public schools, which can mean a range of different things.