USD 232 (De Soto) school board candidates on the issues: Diversity, inclusion and critical race theory

In August, we asked our readers about the issues you wanted to hear the candidates running for USD 232 board of education address. Based on your feedback, we developed a five-item questionnaire touching on the most important issues to patrons of the district.

Each day this week, we will publish the candidates’ responses to one of five questions. Today, we are publishing candidates’ responses to the following question:

Diversity, equity and inclusion programs have been under scrutiny in recent months as national media personalities and politicians raise alarms about the teaching of “critical race theory” or ideas linked to it. Do you support the district’s current approach to diversity, equity and inclusion? Why or why not? What does the term “critical race theory” mean to you?

Below are the answers the Post received from the candidates on this issue:

School District Member 5

Amy Parker

I feel schools should be teaching our children how to think, not what to think. CRT does not belong in the public schools. Teaching children that America is systemically racist will create confusion and division. Our children need clarity and unity now more than ever. As parents, we need to find out what DEI and/or CRT training has taken place and review any curriculum/training materials before it is presented to students in the classrooms.

Calley Malloy

I do support the district’s plan on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, however I think this kind of training needs to span from students, teachers, staff and administration and be ongoing. We have an opportunity to celebrate our differences and connect in this community we share. We need to prepare our students for college and or the workforce where they will experience people from all walks of life. In the past few weeks we have seen several different instances of racism in nearby schools. It is abundantly clear we need to be educating on racism, and not removing it from our education.

What is CRT?

CRT is a theory that seeks to examine the influence of Race and Racism on laws and legal systems.

I do not support teaching CRT in USD 232. CRT is a graduate level course that is not taught in elementary, middle, high school, and even college. It is a master’s level course. CRT is also not a curriculum that a school board would purchase to teach in our schools. The Kansas State Board of Education has already issued a statement explaining that Critical Race Theory is not in our curriculum. So, although CRT itself is not an academic standard in Common Core, the consequence of attaching fear and misinformation to it have already begun.

John Gaignat

Gaignat’s name will appear on the ballot, but he has bowed out of the race.

School District Member 6

Brandi Jonasson

Our district has long had a commitment to promoting diversity, equity and inclusion, and I support those efforts. I particularly think students need to learn about people who have backgrounds different from their own. We can also do more. Beyond understanding each other’s differences, we also need our community to work toward making sure that all members of our community – both children and their families – feel like they belong. Our differences make us stronger.

As for the term “critical race theory,” my understanding is that it is a theory taught at the college and law school level about how to view structures in society through a racial lens. That’s not a topic that’s being taught in the K-12 curriculum anywhere in Kansas, according to the Kansas State Board of Education. I believe there are age-appropriate ways to teach children about diversity, equity, and inclusion, and we should continue to teach those concepts. To the extent students are being taught about history, the role of race and race relations in American history, and how some racial groups have been treated by the government and society in American history – I am 100% in support of that. Students need to understand so they can be educated, empathetic citizens.

Emily Carpenter

Yes, I believe the district’s current approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion is appropriate, but it is important that all decisions are communicated with district patrons, and that parents have an opportunity for feedback if concerns arise that elements of CRT are finding their way into the classroom.

Critical race theory is an academic idea that is more than 40 years old. The center idea is that race is socially constructed, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something inserted in legal systems and policies. While there may be some truth to this theory, I do not support CRT or any curriculum that causes division and hyper focuses on race. I believe in teaching all sides of history and teaching students to critically think for themselves.

School District Member 4

Crystal Duke

I support diversity, equity and inclusion in its main definition at face value. However, as with everything that’s related to students: parents must be involved because the details matter in terms of how all policies are implemented. This is where transparency must be paramount. Critical race theory is generally defined as an idea that race is not just about individual bias, but is systemic throughout legal and policy matters. While it is fine to discuss that in a college setting where different theories are debated, it would not be appropriate to be included in any kind of K-12 curriculum. In summation, CRT does not belong in our schools, and we need to watch the “renaming” of CRT to insure any damage that would come from its implementation would be mitigated.

Danielle Heikes (incumbent)

I stand for ALL students and, thus, I believe in creating a learning environment that addresses the needs of each individual student. I also believe in creating a sense of belonging and inclusivity in our schools. I do support the district’s current approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion. In fact, I’m excited that USD 232 recently began a partnership with the Kauffman Foundation, along with many school districts in the metro, to participate in Kauffman’s brand-new Equity Cohort. The goal of this initiative is to explore ways to bring diversity, equity, and inclusion training to our district, using best practices from other districts. Additionally, the district added a strategic goal last year to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion as part of the district’s overall goals.

It is extremely important for schools to connect with families and the community. Our district does a fantastic job of this already, but there are always opportunities to expand programs, including inviting community leaders from different backgrounds to share their experiences with students in a classroom setting. Further, meeting diverse learning needs is another way in which we can, and do, ensure equity and inclusion in our district.

Critical Race Theory, or CRT, is a complex concept explored in college graduate or doctorate-level legal courses and has been around since the 1980s. CRT is not a part of the Kansas standards for curriculum and content, nor is it a part of USD 232’s standards. CRT is not taught in USD 232 schools and I do not support CRT curriculum or teaching in USD 232 schools.

On Wednesday, we will publish the candidates’ responses to the following question:

When did you attend your first meeting of the school board? What issue motivated you to attend and what did you learn from watching the group work live?