After a community member requested the Jefferson City School District remove a supplemental website from its curriculum, the district deemed the website appropriate and decided to keep it.
Curtis Thompson requested the district remove learningforjustice.org from its seventh-grade social studies curriculum. Learning for Justice, formerly Teaching Tolerance (tolerance.org), provides free resources to teachers who aim to tackle systemic injustice. The website is an optional supporting resource referenced in the curriculum.
It was founded by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which works to "dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements, and advance the human rights of all people," according to its website. Learning for Justice seeks to uphold this mission.
Thompson submitted a request to the district to remove the website from the curriculum and appeared before the school board Feb. 22 asking to remove it because it includes articles about Black Lives Matter, critical race theory and similar philosophies he believes are inappropriate.
"I asserted that the site is not appropriate for the age group, not appropriate for the content, that the curriculum has no site that rebuts the claims of the site, and the district did not address any of these reasons when it rejected my request," Thompson said in an email to the News Tribune.
Critical race theory "critiques how the social construction of race and institutionalized racism perpetuate a racial caste system that relegates people of color to the bottom tiers," according to the American Bar Association.
Tommy Curry, an associate professor of philosophy at Texas A&M University, defines critical race theory as "the view that the law and legal institutions are inherently racist and that race itself, instead of being biologically grounded and natural, is a socially constructed concept that is used by white people to further their economic and political interests at the expense of people of colour," according to Encyclopedia Britannica.
Learning for Justice partners with Upfront, a news magazine published by the New York Times for use in high school classrooms. Learning for Justice's website includes a link to Upfront's website, which includes an article teaching and promoting the 1619 Project.
The 1619 Project is a New York Times Magazine initiative that aims to reframe U.S. history by marking 1619, the year when the first enslaved Africans arrived on Virginia soil, as our nation's foundational date.
JC Schools does not have the 1619 Project in its curriculum, nor has the curriculum team considered adding it, District Communications Director Ryan Burns said.
But Thompson, who addressed the board about the learningforjustice.org site, contends the project does have a presence in the district's curriculum.
After Thompson submitted a request to remove the website from the curriculum, Superintendent Larry Linthacum convened a committee to review the website, based on Board Policy KLB-AP(1).
The committee included a curriculum coordinator, a library media services coordinator, a library media specialist, a Board of Education member, an assistant principal, two teachers and a Parents as Teachers parent educator.
The committee returned a written report of findings to Linthacum, dated Feb. 2.
The seventh-grade social studies teams from Lewis and Clark and Thomas Jefferson middle schools said they don't use the website, according to the review committee's meeting agenda.
The committee noted in its report that district guidance regarding instructional materials states "the value of any textbook, library or other instructional material will be judged as a whole, taking into the account the purpose of the material rather than individual, isolated expressions or incidents of the work."
Board Treasurer Ken Enloe, a member of the review committee, said the committee doesn't endorse all content on the website, but it has materials that could be useful to staff, such as resources on bullying and bias.
"Ultimately, the committee decided that it wasn't appropriate to exclude and to prohibit staff from using it because there were potential resources that would be appropriate to them," Enloe said during the Feb. 22 board meeting.
The committee report also states the curriculum philosophy for the district includes a goal stated as "the development in students of an appreciation for diversity, a valuing of our common heritage and a concern for equity."
Further guidance outlines that instructional materials "provide materials representative of varied religious, ethnic and cultural groups and their contributions to our heritage," the report states.
Thompson said he believes the district should strive for equality instead of equity — equality meaning everybody is given the same resources and opportunities, and equity recognizing each person has different circumstances and allocating the resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.
The committee also noted a website is a dynamic resource and can constantly change, unlike a textbook or print material. Thompson argues this is more reason to remove the website from the curriculum.
The board policy states the committee must recommend the questioned material be retained without restriction, retained with restriction or removed.
Based on the review committee's recommendation, the Board of Education voted to retain the website without restriction at the Feb. 22 board meeting.
The middle school social studies curriculum is currently in a revision process to ensure it meets the Missouri Learning Standards, last updated in 2016. The district's seventh-grade social studies curriculum was last approved in 2014, according to district officials.
"All resources will be evaluated to ensure they support the Missouri Learning Standards, which is what our curriculum is based upon," Burns said.