SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah State Board of Education committee met Thursday to consider a proposed rule in response to a pair of controversial resolutions approved by the Legislature that encourage the board to ban what lawmakers consider "harmful" critical race theory concepts.
The committee gave preliminary approval to the rule, which would prohibit instruction that "promotes or endorses" that a student's or teacher's sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or membership in a protected class "is inherently superior or inferior" to another, or that it "determines the content" of their character, values, morals or personal ethics.
Under the rule, the idea that a person "bears responsibility for the past actions of individuals" from their same sex, gender, race, etc., would be banned in instruction as well.
The rule will make its way to the full Utah State Board of Education next week for a vote before it becomes final.
Some aspects of the rule sparked debate among members of the Standards and Assessment Committee on Thursday as they discussed how to balance free speech concerns and inclusion for teachers and students.
Board member Jennie Earl proposed several changes, including banning preferential treatment toward a student or teacher based on their sex, race and other factors.
But board member Brent Strate, a teacher, noted that some issues could arise with that change. For example, if a student has dyslexia, a teacher makes special accommodations for them, including giving them an oral quiz instead of written quiz, Strate said.
"I think about the recent controversy where many individuals have stated their belief that the (Utah) Jazz gave a scholarship to a certain group of individuals, that was preferential treatment. … Sometimes, in the definition that I've given, I do give what you may define — or what someone may define — as preferential treatment. But it's based on the situations and my professionalism as a teacher," Strate said.
Board member Scott Hansen agreed that teachers sometimes need to "positively discriminate" by giving students special accommodations.
Earl withdrew her proposed change after hearing others' comments. She also suggested the idea of banning public education from compelling a student or teacher to adopt or profess ideas in violation of the Civil Rights Act and anti-discrimination laws.
When asked for examples, she said she wants to ensure a student or teacher isn't compelled to say they agree with something they don't, such as the idea of "white fragility."
"It could be that type of a thing where someone is feeling compelled to either affirm or agree with something that they may feel uncomfortable about. The key thing is the compelled part," Earl said.
Strate questioned what would happen if a principal told him he needs to affirm that one race is superior or inferior to another race, explaining that it's already against the law to "compel another to adopt racist ideas."
Earl said she wanted the change for the same reason the new rule is needed — "because we're seeing violations of it."
In his 30 years of education, he said, "I have never seen or heard anything like this, only the idea that it's happening somewhere."
"I'm not against this because it's already the law. I just think the verbiage here, putting it in here, I just see potential abuse of that," Strate said, adding that he is throwing himself "to the wolves" by disagreeing.
The proposed change did not make it into the final draft of the rule.
While not encouraging an outright ban of the theory, the resolutions approved by lawmakers May 19 — after the House and Senate held their own "extraordinary session" separate from the special session called by Gov. Spencer Cox — urge the State School Board to ensure certain concepts aren't taught in Utah schools.
Through the resolution, lawmakers oppose the ideas that "one race is inherently superior or inferior to another race," that "an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of the individual's race," or that "an individual's moral character is determined by the individual's race."
After the committee approved the rule draft on Thursday evening, Earl noted that it's an issue the group has worked on for months.
"This wasn't a quick thing just because the Legislature passed a resolution last week. We've been working on this since easily January, trying to gather data, gather information, and being thorough and intentful," Earl said.
"This hasn't been something we've taken lightly," she said.
State School Board member Janet Cannon praised her colleagues for getting to a consensus on a "very complex" issue.
"I think it's being done with an eye to doing something good that will be helpful to all children who are involved in public education in our state," she said.