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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- Banning critical race theory in Kentucky’s public school and university classrooms is “one of the most vital pieces of legislation” that lawmakers will take up in next year’s legislative session, the sponsor of a pre-filed bill intended to bar teaching the concept said Tuesday.

The latest hot-button cultural topic was the focus of a two-and-a-half hour meeting Tuesday of the Interim Joint Committee on Education.

Discussion varied greatly among speakers during Tuesday’s hearing. Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass and Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Marty Pollio said the decades-old academic theory is not taught in public school classrooms to their knowledge, and they defended their work to promote equity in schools.

“To be clear, equity and CRT are not the same thing,” Glass said.

“Equity in education is fundamentally an effort to ensure that all of our students have the support that they need to meet our academic standards and to reach their full potential as citizens, students and human beings. An equity focus in education recognizes that public school students come to us with all sorts of different backgrounds, needs, different supports that are necessary and experiences and that we have to take those into account when we consider the education for each child.”

Both Glass and Pollio said they are not experts on the academic concept, and Glass suggested that the Kentucky Department of Education could work with lawmakers to identify legal or academic scholars well-versed in the subject.

Critical race theory generally examines U.S. history through the lens of racism and explores the impact of racism in the nation’s laws, institutions and policies.

But Rep. Matt Lockett, a Nicholasville Republican sponsoring a pre-filed bill that would prohibit public schools and universities from teaching about the concept, offered a much different definition in his opening remarks.

“CRT is simply identity-based Marxism based solely on the color of one’s skin,” Lockett said. “... It's a radical ideology that seeks to use race as means of moral, social and political revolution.”

After recent conservative backlash against the academic theory, several states have introduced or passed bills explicitly prohibit teaching it and similar concepts.

If Lockett and co-sponsors of his pre-filed Bill Request 69 have their druthers, Kentucky will be among the next states to ban critical race theory in classrooms.

The pre-filed bill does not explicitly mention critical race theory. Instead, the proposed legislation would prohibit concepts like the superiority of one race, gender or religion over another; that a person can consciously or unconsciously be inherently racist, sexist or oppressive; that a person bears responsibility for things done in the past by members of the same race, sex or religion; and someone should feel guilt, anguish, discomfort or any other psychological distress because of their race, sex or religion.

Potential violations at public schools would trigger internal investigations and could lead to litigation under the bill. At postsecondary institutions, aggrieved parties could bring legal action against them.

Jack Brewer, chairperson of the America First Policy Institute’s Center for Opportunity Now, cited examples of what he saw as critical race theory’s implementation in classrooms in states like New York and Nevada.

In Nevada, he said a public charter school had students identify their genders and racial identities and articulate their privilege.

“The indoctrination is already hurting our kids,” Brewer said. “It makes kids that are up against already hard circumstances feel like they're less than.”

Specific examples of critical race theory’s inclusion in Kentucky classrooms were few, however.

“More and more people are reporting in public schools across our state students as young as kindergarten are being taught that they are perpetually being oppressed or that they are perpetual oppressors,” Rep. Jennifer Decker, R-Waddy, said without identifying specific schools or districts.

Lockett said he was told of a first-grade class that was separated by race and identified as oppressors and oppressed in Kentucky.

In response to a question about why references to critical race theory were removed from the curriculum of a JCPS high school elective called developing black historical consciousness, Pollio said the term was cut because Kentucky’s largest school district “did not want CRT to be something that takes our eye off of the ball on racial equity.”

“I think that black historical consciousness class was really developed for students to look at ways in which these inequities, especially around outcomes across America in many different ways but especially in education, have happened over the past few years,” Pollio said.

Opponents of the legislation worried about its consequences in Kentucky’s public education system.

Glass said the measure could jeopardize the accreditations of Kentucky’s public universities. He referred to Bill Request 69 and a similar pre-filed piece of legislation as “educator gag and student censorship bills.”

“These bills are part of a growing international class of policies called memory laws,” Glass said. “… Memory laws like these are increasingly the tools of some of the most authoritarian regimes in the world. The fact that the Kentucky legislature is now considering them and has called this special meeting on them should cause us all to pause and consider our next move carefully and how history will judge all of us.”

Rep. Tina Bojanowski, D-Louisville, said the bill was too vague and would lead to confusion on what is and is not allowed to be taught.

“One teacher asked how could anyone accurately teach about World War II and not mention Hitler’s ideas, which included the idea that the Aryan race was superior to all others,” she said of an informal survey she conducted of her teacher peers.

Lockett said his bill remained a “work in progress.”

Copyright 2021 WDRB Media. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All Rights Reserved.

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