Education

Right-wing protesters disrupted the Jefferson County Board of Education meeting Tuesday night. The activists, who were mostly white, are part of a national conservative movement against critical race theory and racial equity.

“I heard everything from ‘Critical race theory is Marxist,’ to ‘We don’t need to be talking about racial equity in schools, we need prayer back in schools,’” District 6 Board member Corrie Shull said. 

Critical race theory is a body of scholarship in the legal field, which examines how laws and institutions create and perpetuate systemic racism. Anti-critical race theory activists believe this critique of systemic racism, usually taught in law school, is being forced upon K-12 students through racial equity initiatives. Even the word “equity” has come under fire from these groups, and from right-wing pundits like Tucker Carlson.

The protesters filled about half the seats at the board’s first full-capacity meeting since March of 2020. The disruption began when Shull, who is Black, thanked district staff for making racial equity a priority in the district’s strategic plan.

“All kids matter!” protesters began to chant, banging rhythmically.

Board chair Diane Porter, who is also Black, tried repeatedly to call the meeting back to order. When protesters did not oblige, Porter called a five-minute recess. Most left, and some were kicked out, according to the Courier Journal. 

The protesters disrupted a “work session,” when the board doesn’t usually take public comment. Public comment is normally heard at monthly “business meetings,” but in-person public comment hasn’t been allowed at those meetings since the pandemic began. Porter said they’ll soon announce the next chance for public comment.

Speaking to WFPL News Wednesday morning, Shull said it’s within protester’s rights to oppose critical race theory, and he expects them to speak out during public comment in the future.

“But they need to do their homework first,” Shull said. “They’re massively misinformed.”

Shull invited them to read the writings of critical race theorists, rather than repeat inaccurate talking points.

“I think white people are living in a moment where they are deeply fearful of the strivings of other ethnic groups,” he said.

State Republican lawmakers have already pre-filed two bills purportedly targeting critical race theory ahead of the next legislative session.

Eric Ward, an expert on white supremacist groups with the Southern Poverty Law Center, told WFPL News earlier this month he worries the debate around critical race theory and equity could mobilize violent white supremacist groups to target school board meetings or schools.

“My fear is that this type of irresponsible rhetoric will signal to extremist elements within the white nationalist movement, who will amplify this beyond rhetoric through the use of violence,” he said.

District 2 board member Chris Kolb said he did not feel unsafe at the meeting, though he did note one protester had a sign with a Three-Percenter symbol. The Three-Percenters are an anti-government militia group, many of whom participated in the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

 

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.