A great deal of controversy and demonstrations were sparked by the Francis Howell School Board's vote in Missouri to eliminate Black History and Black Literature courses from the district's curriculum.
On Thursday night, a 5-2 majority of the board, consisting of seven white members, approved the decision. Since 2021, the three high schools in the district have provided the two elective courses. These courses will no longer be offered as of July 1, 2024.
This ruling was made five months after the same board repealed an anti-discrimination policy that had been put in place following George Floyd's death. The Francis Howell community promised to “speak firmly against any racism, discrimination, and senseless violence against people regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality, immigration status, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or ability” in the resolution, which was approved in August 2020.
Five new board members, supported by the conservative political action organization Francis Howell Families, took control of the board in April and have since focused on the resolution and course offerings. There are seven white people on the board. The classes are strongly opposed by the PAC, which claims that they incorporate critical race theory principles.
An academic approach known as "critical race theory" looks at how institutions and society are shaped by institutionalized racism and power dynamics. It has turned into a lightning rod for lawmakers and conservative groups who want to restrict or outlaw its teaching in educational institutions across the nation.
Protests outside the board meeting greeted the decision to discontinue the classes. Parents and kids chanted, "Let them learn!" in unison. Speakers inside questioned the choice and how it would affect the identity and education of the students.
Jada Williams, a senior at Francis Howell North High School who completed the Black Literature course the previous year, was one of the presenters. She told CNN that the training helped her realize her passion for social justice and writing and that it had changed her life.
She said, "It was the first time I recognized myself in the curriculum." "I never felt like I belonged in school until that moment."
Williams expressed her "heartbreak" and "angry" feelings against the board's decision, claiming that racism and ignorance were the driving forces behind it. The board members, she claimed, had betrayed her by not paying attention to the opinions of the instructors and students who backed the courses.
She said, "They don't give a damn about us." They have no interest in our schooling. Their concern is not for our future.
CNN contacted the board members who supported the dismissal, but they did not provide a response. The district released a statement stating that the choice was made after examining the rigor, alignment, and enrollment of the courses.
According to the statement, "The Board of Education is committed to providing all students with a high-quality education that prepares them for college and career readiness in a global society." "The district will keep providing a range of courses that uphold an inclusive and respectful culture while reflecting the diversity of our students and community."
In order to make sure that the curriculum satisfies the requirements and standards set by the state, the district will collaborate with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to evaluate and improve it.
There were little over a hundred students enrolled in the courses this semester from the largely white suburban area of St. Louis. The community has strongly reacted to the decision to remove certain courses from the curriculum, raising concerns about the inclusiveness and diversity of the educational system.
The Francis Howell School Board's choice is a part of a wider discussion concerning the place of history and racism in the classroom. It remains to be seen how these choices will affect students' perceptions of history and their role in society as the story develops.