Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Mars School Board Wants To Affirm Its Love Of Country, Ban Teacher Use Of Critical Race Theory

Red lockers inside a school.
Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA

A public school system 20 miles north of Pittsburgh appears to be the first school district in the region to propose banning critical race theory. The board is slated to vote on a proposal to “promote patriotism” on August 17.

Critical race theory is a framework that holds racism is systemic in the United States. While teachers' unions maintain that the concept isn’t used in K-12 schools, it has become a catch-all phrase for many of those who oppose social justice and equity work in schools. In other parts of the country where such conversations are playing out, those who oppose the theory say they don’t want students to learn to hate America, or for white children to hate their skin color when learning about the country’s history.

The Mars board’s proposal isn’t in response to any issue or problem in the 3,300-student district, says the member who introduced it, Dayle Ferguson.

Ferguson proposed adding the “promotion of informed, engaged, patriotic citizens” as a goal in the district’s mission statement at a July 20 board meeting. In a statement she read at the time, she said it was an affirmation of the district’s long-standing beliefs and practices.

“Given the national narrative that is trickling down to the local school boards all across this great nation, the Mars board members wanted to proactively and publicly reassure and/or remind those who may be curious about our position or who may have questions or concerns,” she read. “The proposed revision can be summed up quite easily: The Mars Area School District loves America.”

She went on to say that the proposal reflects the power and importance of local control in public education.

Ferguson declined an interview request. Board president John Kennedy said in an email that the board members collectively decided they will not do interviews about the proposal.

“Mars is a great community that is proud to be Americans,” Kennedy said in an email. “The policy speaks for itself.”

The policy was posted for a 30-day public input period. It is unclear how student, teacher and public input will be considered.

The policy revisions fall under two categories: promotion of patriotism, and promotion of engaged and informed students.

The changes in the "patriotism" category call for schools to display the American flag in all classrooms, recite the Pledge of Allegiance daily, and play the National Anthem before athletic events. The proposal also says the schools should promote civility and decency while respecting the free speech, conscience and religious liberty rights of students, administrators, and staff.

But the under the category of informing and engaging students, the policy would prohibit teaching concepts that “impute fault, blame, a tendency to oppress others, or the need to feel guilt or anguish to persons solely because of their race, sex, or religion.” It also states that the district does not support using curricula or supplemental materials to “indoctrinate students in a single social, or political ideology or theory or promote one race, religion or sex above others.”

“Such concepts violate the principles of individual rights, equal opportunity, and individual merit underpinning our constitutional republic, and therefore have no place in training for administrators, teachers or other employees of the district,” the proposed policy states.

The policy calls out four “social theories” not to be presented to students without board approval: Holocaust denial theory, 9/11 theory, the 1619 Project, and critical race theory. It does not define any of the “theories” nor does it explain why they are not to be used.

Ferguson's proposal does say it permits the discussion of controversial issues in high-school classrooms, “Including the dissemination of factual information about historical or current events, where such teachings or information reasonably relates to the course curriculum. Both sides of the political issue shall be presented, supported by primary or balanced secondary sources, to permit students to be well informed and able to make their own decisions regarding political or other controversial issues.”

In her statement, Ferguson said that no one should wonder or worry about where the Mars Area School District stands.

“We will teach our children to honor America, to love themselves and to respect others, and to nurture their individual talents and interests in their personal pursuits of happiness,” the statement says.