JCPS developing ‘Black studies’ course with UofL as lawmakers propose critical race theory bans

The course would introduce students to the Black experience throughout history, globally and in America
The course would introduce students to the Black experience throughout history, globally and in America.
Updated: Jun. 8, 2021 at 12:48 AM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - The University of Louisville is creating a Black studies course with Jefferson County Public Schools at the same time elected officials in Kentucky have proposed a ban on many concepts that would be taught within the program.

UofL Pan-African Studies Chair Dr. Ricky Jones said he was tapped to serve as the instructor of record for an “Intro to Black Studies” course for JCPS. Jones said the course would be a free, dual-credit program, tailored for students at several district high schools as early as fall 2021.

As Jones explained, the course would examine the Black experience across history, globally and in America.

“It gives students their first taste of that type of information which they often do not get,” he said.

After working on the program since the spring semester, Jones met with more than a dozen JCPS educators Monday to review the course syllabus and discuss teaching methods for the course.

“We don’t think you can talk about the development of the United States without talking about slavery, and segregation and reconstruction and Jim Crow. We don’t think you can talk about this country legitimately in any substantive, intellectual way without discussing those things,” Jones said. “Anybody who thinks students are getting this in classes geared toward the European descended experience they’re either being willfully ignorant or deceptive.”

The new JCPS course could be unveiled just months before state lawmakers take up legislation that would prohibit the teaching of critical race theory in public schools and universities. Two prefiled bills, Bill Request 60 and 69, would disallow discussion that teach concepts like “one race, sex or religion is inherently superior” or “inherently racist.”

While Jones said the JCPS course was in the planning stages long before those bills were filed, he argued they would make the subject matter of his course illegal.

“It’s shameful that anybody would come up with a bill like that ... but it’s even more disturbing that these things may pass in Kentucky, and if they do, Kentucky needs to ask itself some serious questions,” he said.

In a statement, Rep. Joe Fischer (R-Ft. Thomas), a sponsor of Bill Request 60, condemned critical race theory:

“Critical race theory is not based on facts or evidence but rather serves as a dangerous diversion from education priorities that are actually proven to eliminate disparities. It is a powerful tool for those who seek to divide us into categories and destroy the very institutions that have seen generations of Americans of all races and backgrounds build successful futures.”

However, Jones accused Republican lawmakers of evoking critical race theory misleadingly.

“Most of the people who are throwing the term critical race theory around have now idea what critical race theory is,” Jones said. “All critical race theory says is that racism is not just an individual phenomenon ... It’s saying that we have to examine it in systemic terms.”

Gov. Andy Beshear called the legislation “concerning” when asked to give his first impression of the bill following his COVID briefing on June 1.

“I think once you start legislating what can and can’t be taught in schools, especially in the framework of politics, it gets really dangerous,” the governor said. “I think our schools should be providing the best education for our children, they should be able to have open and real dialogue and this idea that we would try to take something like this or almost anything and because of politics or things going on the country legislate exactly what will be taught in schools is more than a little concerning to me.”

In a statement to WAVE 3 News, JCPS superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio also voiced his opposition to the legislation:

“I oppose BR 60, the proposed legislation prefiled today. I have real concerns about any attempt by the legislature to take away local control and potentially disrupt our plans to reduce the achievement gap in JCPS.”

The two bills seeking to ban critical race theory will not be discussed until Kentucky’s next legislative session begins in January 2022. Jones said he would “push back” against either bill if they advance; he also encouraged parents to let their students enroll in the course when it is offered.

“You want your child to have as much information as possible going out into the world .. don’t run from the information,” he said.

JCPS has not yet confirmed which schools will offer the “Intro to Black Studies” course or when it will be offered.

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