Cushman: Utah’s Educational Leaders Are Letting Us Down


Gwen Christopherson

A Utah State Board of Education office in Salt Lake City, Utah on Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. (Gwen Christopherson | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By KC Ellen Cushman, Opinion Writer


Over the past few months, Utah has made a lot of national headlines. Both our state legislature’s decision to ban the teaching of critical race theory (CRT) in K-12 classrooms and large COVID-19 case surges have garnered negative attention from national media.

Decisions by our state leadership affect everyone in Utah, but especially Utah students. Banning CRT from classrooms takes parts of our students’ history education away.

Students will also be more susceptible to the contagious COVID-19 delta variant this school year because there is no K-12 mask mandate.

These decisions made by a number of our state leaders show a clear lack of regard for Utah students. State leaders need to start looking out for the interests of Utah students. If they don’t, we need to replace them with leaders who will during their next elections.

In early June, our state legislature passed a resolution banning CRT from Utah’s classrooms. The Utah State Board of Education subsequently began defining the CRT ban guidelines.

While legislators who voted for the CRT ban argue the new rules protect white students from feeling shame, they ignore the real racism people of color have faced in Utah schools. Learning about racism in our history helps students recognize and stop racism in the present. Limiting discussions on race in our schools perpetuates the racism many people of color experience in our classrooms.

One conservative board member, Natalie Cline, even tried to amend the new rules to ban over 100 words like equity, social justice, social change and white supremacy. Her rules would have left Utah teachers with no words to talk about the KKK, let alone the Civil Rights Movement.

Fortunately, her amendment failed, but it shows how some Utah leaders want to teach our students less instead of more and only seem concerned about the experience of white students.

The education students receive in Utah schools will affect the rest of their lives. It will make a difference in the way they treat people and act as an ally for the people around them. Rather than moving forward from the past by learning about the mistakes our country has made, state leaders have elected to hide from our history, hurting our students’ education in the process.

In another decision that ignored the needs of Utah students, state lawmakers made it impossible for the Utah Board of Education or local school districts to require masks. They have also hesitated to enact restrictions at the state level, with Senate President Stuart Adams saying he thinks the decision should be left to parents and that mandating masks is very “difficult.”

Gov. Spencer Cox also stands against mandating masks in Utah schools, instead urging all Utahns to get vaccinated before the school year begins. Mandating masks in schools is only “difficult” because state lawmakers chose to ban mask requirements in Utah schools in March.

While some leaders like the executive director of the Salt Lake County Health Department, Dr. Angela Dunn, have worked to require masks in classrooms this fall, those efforts could fall apart because of the rules our legislators made in March.

Meanwhile, the contagious delta variant continues to spread across the state. The rolling seven-day average for case rates dropped to about 200 cases earlier in the summer, but has risen to 844 and will likely continue to rise as the school year starts without any mask mandates.

In early August, Utah’s ICUs once again reached over 80% capacity. As a result of the delta variant, state leaders have made KN95 masks available to every child in the state. That only raises the question, “If state leaders are making masks available to every child, why shouldn’t we require children to wear them at school?”

Not taking action to stop the spread of COVID-19, especially among children too young to get vaccinated, puts the health of all our students, and by extension, the rest of our communities at risk.

Removing parts of our history from the classroom, parts that have been taught in the past, will only hurt our students. We should strive to teach our students more while they are in our schools, not less.

Putting our students in classrooms where they can more easily get sick when a clear solution exists is negligent. We should ask kids to mask up this fall to protect them, especially because many students are too young to get vaccinated.

Many Utahns agree.

When the State Board of Education was deciding its new rules about CRT, dozens of people argued against the new rules, fighting hard against the ban. Many Utahns have also rallied to bring masks to our classrooms before children get sick.

Our governor and state legislators who supported banning important parts of history have not done their job to provide quality education to Utah students. Board members like Natalie Cline have demonstrated their inability to make decisions about the education our kids receive.

Gov. Cox and the state legislators who banned mask requirements in the classroom have made a reckless decision about the safety of students in our schools. We shouldn’t have to wait for our students to end up in the hospital to take action.

We have a responsibility as constituents and voters to take note of the people failing our students and elect leaders who prioritize giving students quality education and a safe learning environment.

While they remain in office, we need to call and write to our leaders reminding them that we watch their actions. When elections come again, we need to get rid of leaders who fail our kids. There are so many state leaders letting our students down right now, from our governor to our legislators and other leaders.

Next time those leaders come up for election, hopefully, we will vote them out.


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