JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A Missouri legislative committee on Monday held a hearing on how educators teach K-12 students about race and racism without hearing from any Black Missourians.
No Black parents, teachers or scholars testified to the Joint Committee on Education during the invite-only hearing on critical race theory.
Aside from an official from Missouri's education department, the only people who testified Monday were critics of critical race theory, which is a way of thinking about America's history through the lens of racism.
Missouri NAACP President Rod Chapel called it "ridiculous" to have a conversation about inequity while "excluding the very people who are saying we've been treated inequitably."
"That talks more to the kind of hearing that they wanted to have than the information that they wanted to gather," Chapel told reporters after the hearing. "They wanted to hear from their friends who were going to support their political talking points."
Republican Sen. Cindy O'Laughlin, who leads the committee, said she wanted to use the hearing to highlight voices of parents upset about critical race theory who have said local school officials ignored their complaints.
"I felt today it was important to hear from people who have tried to go through the official cycle of authority within their districts and have basically been turned away," she told committee members.
O'Laughlin said she also invited an associate professor of teaching who specializes in Black history, but he declined to testify.
She said there will be more committee hearings on critical race theory and more opportunities for the public to weigh in.
"I'm certain this won't be the last conversation," she said.
Heather Fleming, a former Missouri teacher who now offers diversity and inclusion training, said she wanted to testify Monday but was not allowed. She said without any African Americans involved in the discussion, "you're talking about us, without us."
"What not having any African Americans in the room really showed was that this wasn't really about understanding," Fleming said.
Scholars developed critical race theory during the 1970s and 1980s in response to what they viewed as a lack of racial progress following the civil rights legislation of the 1960s.
It's recently become a political lightning rod.
Many Republicans view the concepts underlying critical race theory as an effort to rewrite American history and persuade white people that they are inherently racist and should feel guilty because of their advantages.
"Some students are having serious emotional problems dealing with the CRT, or social justice, concepts being taught in our schools," Katie Rash, a leader in the Missouri chapter of the group No Left Turn in Education, told the committee Monday.
Gov. Mike Parson on Monday night entered the discussion with a tweet.
"Critical Race Theory (CRT) has no business being taught in Missouri classrooms – but the vast majority of our schools are not doing that," he said. "Missouri schools are teaching diversity, equity and inclusion to help prepare our students for life and for the workforce by allowing them to better understand and respect each other's differences. However, we do NOT need the extreme teachings of CRT in order to accomplish that goal.
"I believe in local control and our state has a long history of valuing local control, and that is why local schools districts have statutory authority over curriculum. Individual schools receive direct input from teachers and parents and know best how to address these topics," Parson tweeted.