State board of education passes controversial K-12 social studies standards

Board votes 7-5 to approve Draft Five amid growing pushback

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt speaks from the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh. Photo via N.C. Dept. of Public Safety

RALEIGH — On Feb. 4, the N.C. State Board of Education voted to pass controversial revisions to the state’s social studies standards by a margin of seven to five, ending a battle which spanned multiple meetings over the last month.

Both elected officials on the board, N.C. Treasurer Dale Folwell and Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, voted against approving the standards. Board members Amy White, Dr. Olivia Oxendine and Todd Chasteen joined Folwell and Robinson in voting no. 

The approved standards are Draft Five of the revision process and include a preamble written by state schools Superintendent Catherine Truitt. Draft Five includes a glossary of terminology that includes race and identity.

Just prior to the vote on Draft Five, board member James Ford attempted a substitute motion to use Draft Four instead, which included previously objected-to terms like “systemic racism” and “gender identity.”

Ford’s motion was voted down by all members except Reginald Kenan and Ford.

“I still disagree with the refinement of the terms,” Ford said, adding that he had a “better appreciation” of why the adjustment was made, but he still disagreed with the “fundamentals of the move.”

Folwell made remarks prior to the vote noting the condemnation of the board of a cartoon published by WRAL depicting those opposing the revisions as members of the KKK. Folwell said the board’s statement did not go far enough.

“For whatever reason, there were many, many North Carolinians who were not aware of these standards,” said Robinson, noting that the board had received 7,000 pieces of feedback on the revisions and that 85% of that feedback was positive. 

In voting to approve Draft Five, the board chose to ignore public pushback on the standards in the form of emails, calls and a petition started by Robinson, which has garnered over 30,500 signatures. 

Robinson continued, “But again, I would say to you, that in four days we had contact with over 30,000 people in North Carolina that are diametrically opposed to these standards. They have serious concerns about them. We are aware of that now.”

Dr. Terry Stoops, director of the John Locke Foundation’s Center for Effective Education, told North State Journal that it would be unwise for the board to ignore public opinion and the “overwhelming response to Lt. Gov. Robinson’s petition suggests that the State Board of Education is out of touch with the views of North Carolinians.”

Stoops also commented that if the State Board of Education did approve the standards as written, he suspects that the General Assembly may get involved.

The lieutenant governor said moving forward with passing the revisions was “irresponsible.”

“We see it now. We know what a hot topic it is. What a divisive issue it is…it’s still divisive with us [the board],” said Robinson, as he urged the board to “go back to the drawing board.”

The standards were heavily criticized before the meeting by Robinson and other members as being too focused on social justice and Critical Race Theory themes. Robinson pushed back on the “code words” in the standards, like “systemic racism,” that give students a negative view of their country. He also rejected the premise that the U.S. government is systemically racist, saying it is “not racist at all.”

“I think they are politically charged. I think they are divisive, and I think they, quite frankly, smack of a lot of leftist dogma,” Robinson said during a January meeting of the board.

In the hour before the vote on the standards, board members were informed that around 50,000 students had left the state’s public district schools during 2020-2021.

About A.P. Dillon 374 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_