Congress has allocated nearly $200 billion in Covid-19 relief funds for K-12 schools over the past year. While this money was intended to help re-open schools and mitigate learning loss, President Biden’s Department of Education is encouraging school districts to spend some of it for a different purpose: providing “free, antiracist therapy for White educators.”
The American Rescue Plan (ARP) requires school districts to reserve 20 percent of funds for “evidence-based” interventions that “respond to students’ academic, social, and emotional needs”—a very sensible charge. But the devil is in the definition, and the administration’s guidance booklet for spending ARP funds suggests that students’ social and emotional needs include the disruption of “whiteness” and the propagation of Critical Race Theory (CRT) ideology. The “Roadmap to Reopening Safely and Meeting All Students’ Needs” explains that “schools are microcosms of society,” and that therefore “intentional conversations related to race and social emotional learning . . . are the foundation for participating in a democracy and should be anchor tenets in building a schoolwide system of educational opportunity.”
The guidance document links to the Abolitionist Teaching Network’s “Guide for Racial Justice & Abolitionist Social and Emotional Learning.” Traditional Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), the Network maintains, is built around five key “competencies” or “standards”: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. By contrast, an “abolitionist” approach to SEL contends that traditional “SEL can be a covert form of policing used to punish, criminalize, and control Black, Brown, and Indigenous children and communities to adhere to White norms.” Abolitionist SEL is “not a lesson plan” but rather a “way of being that informs all aspects of teaching, learning, and relationship building with students, families, and communities.”
In order to bring about this ontological shift, the document endorsed by Biden’s Department of Education presents a host of recommendations, including:
“Partner with and compensate community members to develop and implement Abolitionist SEL models.”
“Remove all punitive or disciplinary practices that spirit murder Black, Brown and Indigenous children.”
“Requir[e] a commitment to learning from students, families, and educators who disrupt Whiteness and other forms of oppression.”
“Free, antiracist therapy for White educators and support staff.”
“Free, radical self/collective care and therapy for Educators and Support Staff of Color.”
Several of these recommendations are, of course, illegal under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Schools may not define a race as inherently oppressive or provide race-specific therapeutic services premised on race-specific mental illnesses. But the Biden Department of Education is proving that it cares less about safeguarding the spirit of the Civil Rights Act than about advancing the tenets of Critical Race Theory.
While parents are still waking up to the reality that Biden’s Department of Education wants to indoctrinate their children, no close observer should be surprised. After all, when Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona served as commissioner of education in Connecticut, he insisted that “we need teachers behind this wave of our curriculum becoming ‘woke.’” When Deputy Secretary of Education Cindy Marten led the San Diego Unified School District, she oversaw teacher training that accused white teachers of “spirit murdering” black students.
The question now is how politicians will respond. There’s little doubt that if the Trump administration published guidance recommending that schools dismantle “blackness” and target black teachers for therapeutic intervention, Democrats would have rightly decried it as a manifestation of “white supremacy.” But to date, Democratic politicians have not raised many qualms about CRT indoctrination in schools.
For their part, many Republican state leaders have shown admirable initiative by introducing legislation to prohibit racial stereotyping and scapegoating. But more must be done. School districts will decide how to spend Covid relief funding over the next few months and must submit plans to their state education agencies. State superintendents and governors should send out counter-guidance that draws a line in the sand: no matter what the Biden administration recommends, schools may not use public funding for purposes that violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act by racially discriminating against students or teachers.