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Kansas City-area high schools, districts and organizations discuss improving diversity curriculum

Discussions begin amid racist incidents at schools
Olathe school classroom
Posted at 5:43 PM, Sep 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-29 19:38:02-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A racist homecoming sign in the Olathe School District and a petition to bring back slavery in the Park Hill School District have made headlines in the last two weeks.

The Olathe School District said diversity and inclusion is something they're working on.

"The importance of recognizing that it's happening so we can get a better, understanding and be able to learn so that we don't continue on the path we've been on," is what Dr. Sarah Guerrero, assistant superintendent of middle school education, said the district is working toward.

Guerrero also oversees diversity and engagement in the district.

Olathe recently implemented new cultural curriculum, such as Black American Studies and Women's Studies electives offered in all five high schools. 738 students are enrolled in both those electives.

One middle school is piloting a Latin Experience course, which the district hopes to expand. Six students are participating in that class.

Latino students make up 19% of the Olathe School District. Guerrero said it's important for students to not only learn about accomplishments from people who look like them, but for everyone to have access to it.

"All of those are important, that we continue the work with diversity as a district and offer those so our students can have that experience, they can embrace it, celebrate it, recognize it, accept and learn from each other," she said.

The district is adamant that what they're teaching is not Critical Race Theory, a topic that's been debated across the country and even in Missouri.

Many educators have denied even having knowledge of it.

Michael Rebne, with Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ KC), says lawmakers have used those three words as a distracting scare tactic.

"It's actually set us back, but we shouldn't give this small number of people that much of a platform and that much power and we really should be focused on racial equity, anti-racism, diversity and inclusion," Rebne said.

SURJ KC organizes the white community to fight for racial justice alongside people of color.

They gave school districts a list of 12 demands to increase cultural curriculum in schools.

"We want teacher education and teacher support around anti-racist education," Rebne said. "We want to understand what it means to deliver anti-racist lessons in the classroom but we also want to engage communities of color, make sure parents of color, students of color are well-represented."

One of the demands is to require 16 hours of anti-racist development training for staff, which the Olathe District says they will achieve this year.

They're also launching an internal equity audit.

Park Hill schools have since announced they'll hire an expert on racism.

Guerrero says they're proud of their diversity electives but haven't decided whether they'll be embedded into overall curriculum.

"You always have to go back and revisit, what is it we need to offer," Guerrero said.

Many folks by now have heard of Critical Race Theory, or CRT. It's become a hot-button issue.

At its core, it's the understanding of how racism has shaped the development of every aspect of our society.

Republican lawmakers in Missouri are trying to ban teaching this in schools.

In July, legislators heard testimony from people about why they think it should be banned. After this meeting, those in support of CRT asked for a meeting. At the end of August, legislators heard testimony from supporters.

Republican representative Doug Richey, who represents Clay County around Excelsior Springs, is one of those trying to get CRT banned.

Richey told KSHB 41 he doesn't know of any upcoming meetings to discuss it.

KSHB 41 News talked to a fourth grade teacher at African Center College Preparatory Academy in Kansas City, Missouri, about CRT.

Sandra Dayse said it's important for her students, especially children of color, to learn about their ancestry and where they came from.

Dayse says she doesn't call it Critical Race Theory, she calls it the truth.

"To say to one group this cannot be taught or that it makes another group feel bad or inferior is wrong," Dayse said. "Children need to know and whether we teach it in school or not, society, which affects everybody, is going to teach it."

Over the summer, the Kansas State Board of Education said CRT is not part of state academics standards.

The only school district in the Kansas City area that openly adheres to teaching CRT is Kansas City Public Schools.