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North Dakota's ban on critical race theory has little impact on K-12 schools: 'Teachers have moved on'

The bill's language says Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler "may adopt rules" to enforce the ban, but a spokesman says she currently has no plans to do so.

Nick Archuleta, president of North Dakota United teachers association, said that members are opposed three to one to carrying firearms in schools during a school safety forum at Fargo South High School on Monday, Aug. 27. Kim Hyatt/ The Forum
Nick Archuleta, president of North Dakota's teachers union, speaks at Fargo South High School in 2018. Kim Hyatt / The Forum

BISMARCK — Nearly a month since North Dakota banned the teaching of critical race theory in public K-12 schools, the legislation is having little to no effect on classroom instruction, according to the head of the state's teachers union.

Although critical race theory is a hot-button issue for many conservative pundits nationwide, it is not a concern for most North Dakota educators, said Nick Archuleta, president of North Dakota United.

"(Teachers) don't have time for these outside sideshows that sometimes crop up in education, and the teachers that I know and I've had conversations with all across the state ... are just absolutely laser-focused on making sure that they are providing the best education that these kids deserve," Archuleta said.

The bill's language says Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler "may adopt rules" to enforce the ban, but a spokesman says she currently has no plans to do so.

"The bill's definition of critical race theory speaks for itself, and districts will be guided by the law," Department of Public Instruction spokesman Dale Wetzel said.

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During last month's special session, the vast majority of North Dakota legislators voted for the bill that bans teaching critical race theory, which the bill defines as the idea that "racism is systemically embedded in American society and the American legal system to facilitate racial inequality." Gov. Doug Burgum signed the bill Nov. 12.

During discussion of the bill, lawmakers acknowledged that no K-12 schools in the state teach the college-level theory, but they believed the bill was needed as a preventative measure to ensure North Dakota schools would never teach it.

Archuleta said because the theory was not taught in North Dakota's K-12 schools in the first place, the ban was "a solution looking for a problem."

The term "critical race theory" is more than 40 years old, though the scholars who coined the term say the way the theory is being discussed today in no way resembles their original definition. The theory taught in college-level classes supposes that racism is still ingrained in America’s institutions and that the repercussions of slavery and Jim Crow disproportionately affect Black people and other people of color to this day.

When asked whether North Dakota teachers who taught about institutional racism in the United States prior to the critical race theory ban have concerns now, Archuleta said he didn't believe teachers were providing instruction on institutional racism in the first place.

Teachers abide by the curricula that is approved by their school board, so he said he would be "surprised" if any district in North Dakota was teaching about institutional racism.

"I think teachers have moved on, and they are more concerned about making sure that kids are getting what they need to complete their academic year successfully than they are about critical race theory," Archuleta said.

As of Nov. 24, 29 states had introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism, according to an Education Week analysis . Twelve states had enacted such bans.

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Readers can reach reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at mgriffith@forumcomm.com.

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