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MCSD will educate staff on new law

A law banning 10 concepts related to race and sex from public school curriculums and diversity training took effect July 1, and Marshalltown Community School District is preparing to educate their staff on the changes.

The topic of critical race theory, which explores the idea of systemic racism and if racial unfairness is embedded into society’s institutions, has heated up around the country as public school boards face packed meeting rooms of public commenters concerned about indoctrination.

Teachers and students in Iowa have protested House File 802, the Republican-backed law signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds targeting critical race theory by banning 10 concepts from instruction such as the idea that the United States or the state of Iowa is fundamentally or systemically racist or sexist.

Supporters of the law call critical race theory discriminatory and indoctrination, while the opposition claims the restrictions could cause teachers to avoid vital topics around race and sex to avoid a discrepancy. An amendment to the bill has been passed to say schools may still teach about, “sexism, slavery, racial oppression, racial segregation or racial discrimination.”

MCSD Superintendent Theron Schutte and Director of Instruction Shauna Smith attended a statewide conference on Wednesday with more than 100 educators to discuss and learn about the new law.

Schutte said the district will spend time at the beginning of the school year to help teachers understand it, but said nothing in the law affects the school’s current curriculum. However, he does believe it puts questions into educator’s minds about what they are allowed to teach.

“I think once we are able to be in a position of sharing with our staff our understanding of what this law says or doesn’t say, we will continue to move forward in teaching about equity and diversity and inclusion just as we have been,” Schutte said.

The areas in which teachers will have to be knowledgeable and conscientious of the new law will be during classroom discussion and in courses related to politics as well as current events.

Schutte said most controversial topics around race and sex will still be able to be discussed safely as long as instruction sticks to historical facts, does not make anyone feel responsible for events such as slavery and does not promote any particular idealogy.

“I think the only way we would even fall into any of that would be if people were to take a particular political decision outside of the realm of what our curriculum speaks towards,” Schutte said.

School staff will also be responsible for adhering to the law outside of the classroom, such as how they present their views in the public and on social media.

If a student makes a point about system racism during a class discussion, teachers would not have to push back about the topic but would need to present multiple viewpoints and not focus on one side.

Schutte compared the new law to the separation of church and state.

“There was a period of time where that was an excuse to never ever do anything that looked, acted, smelled or tasted like religion in schools,” Schutte said. “Well we can teach about religions, we just need to make sure we teach about all the religions and not just focus on one religion, which would lend itself to feeling like we were indoctrinating kids into that religion.”

Smith said Schutte’s analogy was the best way she has heard the new law described. She believes teachers have and will continue to be sensitive to politics surrounding current events.

“In my past I’ve had different situations come up where teachers have been pretty neutral politically, but for whatever reason a student interpreted that differently and it made it home to the parents,” Smith said. “Some of those things may happen, but we want to make sure that we’re sound and following House File 802 and making sure everyone feels included, respected and comfortable with that conversation.”

Contact Trevor Babcock at 641-753-6611 or tbabcock@timesrepublican.com.

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