Jul 6, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Critical race theory uproar sparks a new wave of school board recalls

People hold up signs during a rally against "critical race theory" (CRT) being taught in schools at the Loudoun County Government center in Leesburg, Virginia.

Demonstrators protest critical race theory in schools in Leesburg, Va. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Efforts to recall school board members are surging around the U.S. — and especially in California — amid Republican efforts to quash teaching about institutional racism.

Why it matters: Coordinated efforts by conservative groups are shaping public education, fueled by controversies over race as as well as backlash to COVID-19 closures.

The big picture: Just halfway through 2021, at least 51 local recall efforts involving K-12 school boards have been initiated this year, targeting at least 130 elected members of those boards.

By the numbers: California alone is home to 22 of the current recall efforts. Arizona and Idaho follow with six and four recall efforts respectively.

  • By comparison, Ballotpedia counted a yearly average of 23 recall efforts against 52 school board members between 2006 and 2020.

The intrigue: Historically, school board recalls tended to stem from disputes over mismanagement, open meeting violations or allegations of corruption. But this year's campaigns focus on efforts to snuff out teachings on critical race theory and displeasure about mask requirements.

Reality check: Critical race theory — which holds that racism is baked into the formation of the nation and ingrained in our legal, financial and education systems — was developed in law schools in the 1970s and isn't really taught in grade school.

  • But some teachers have endured criticism for merely mentioning systemic racism in class or bringing up Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd last year.
  • Melissa Statz, a fourth-grade teacher in Wisconsin, last year was accused by some parents of "indoctrinating children" because she introduced lessons on racism. Her school was later hit with racist graffiti.

Don't forget: Elementary school teachers, administrators, and college professors are facing fines, physical threats, and fear of firing as states pass bans to restrict critical race theory in public schools.

  • Citizens for Renewing America, a group led by a White House budget director under former President Trump, offers activists model legislation to craft bans in their states.
  • The proposed legislation says that equity, intersectionality, social justice, and "woke" terms are racist ideas and falsely claims that critical race theory teaches that "one race or sex is superior to another race or sex."
  • Meanwhile, "Patriots for Delaware" in May endorsed five pro-school-reopening candidates for the state's elections, highlighting a local push to limit social justice discussions and defy mask mandates.
  • And parents in Pennsylvania formed their own political action committee to support school board candidates running to keep kids in school in person.
Go deeper