Johnston County Public Schools (JCPS) Board Chairman Todd Sutton says a Policy Review Committee will discuss a policy banning Critical Race Theory (CRT) from being taught in classrooms made no promises it would be adopted.
Sutton made the comments Monday night during a Johnston County Board of Commissioners budget meeting. Commissioners were holding a public hearing on their proposed 2021-2022 budget. Local school officials including Chairman Sutton, Superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy and Chief Financial Officer Stephen Britt appeared to reiterate their request for $79.5 million in funding from the County this year.
Commissioner Fred Smith, who stated in a June 7th meeting, he would not vote to increase funding to JCPS unless they had a policy in place banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory, took the opportunity to ask the school board chairman and superintendent their stance on CRT.
“I believe Johnston County Schools exist to educate our children, not to indoctrinate our children. Critical Race Theory teaches kids to hate our country and to hate each other and I don’t believe it has any place in Johnston County Schools. It’s state sanctioned racism and I hope that you can assure me that the Johnston County School Board has a policy prohibiting the teaching of Critical Race Theory in our school system,” Commissioner Smith stated.
“I am not aware of a policy, but we don’t, we teach the standards,” Superintendent Dr. Bracy responded.
“Well if you don’t teach it then it will be very easy for the school board to assure our citizens by adopting a policy that you don’t teach it. It will be a very simple, easy thing to do,” Smith replied.
“Well that’s a conversation Mr. Stewart can have with Mr. Sutton… but as far as Critical Race Theory being taught in Johnston County Public Schools I am not aware of it happening and if anybody has any evidence of it happening let me know and I will have a conversation with that principal,” Dr. Bracy said.
“Would you be opposed to recommending that the board adopt a policy to assure our citizens that it will not be taught in our schools?,” Commissioner Smith asked Dr. Bracy.
“I will have a conversation with the board anytime they want to about Critical Race Theory but I will say again, I am not aware of it being taught in the school system, and I’m in a lot of schools and talk with a lot of principals and teachers all the time. What we believe in Johnston County Public Schools is teaching the standards and the standards are what we get from DPI, the Department of Public Instruction. That’s what our teachers, that’s my expectation of our teachers to be teaching the standards. I have heard comments about it being taught in the schools. I am not aware of it being taught in our schools,” Dr. Bracy said.
“Well I just want you to know, I am not going to vote to increase your funding until the Board of Education adopts a policy to assure our citizens that the indoctrination of things against our country and against each other, until the board of education adopts a policy against that being taught in our schools,” Smith replied.
Commission Board Chairman Chad Stewart said, “I do agree with Commissioner Smith, and Mr. Sutton knows where I stand, and I spoke with some groups this week and it was a hot topic… My position is I’m not going to tolerate it either but from a funding standpoint I’m not going to let our teachers, bus drivers, students go unfunded because of a policy being adopted or not…”
Stewart added the county budget would likely be adopted on Monday, June 21st and there wouldn’t be enough time for the school board to write and adopt a CRT policy prior to next week’s meeting. But Stewart said there is always the 2022-2023 budget
“I don’t know what authority we have as a board with conditional funding but I am going to trust the school board and you (Dr. Bracy), and I’m speaking for myself, there has to be a budget next year and it might not look the same if we’re not staying the course we are staying,” Stewart stated.
Commissioner Smith said, “This is not a discussion question. This is a yes or no question. And the question is, yes or no. Does the school board have a policy to not allow teaching of Critical Race Theory? The citizens of this county are entitled to an answer to that question.”
School chairman Sutton replied, “To answer your question, at this point in time no. Critical Race Theory came up in I believe in January at the state board of education when they voted 5-to-2. At the present time we are not going to educate our kids on it. I agree with you, as I told Chairman Stewart, i think it is politically polarizing to have such a theory. We do not have a policy at this time, however, I’d be more than happy to share this with our chair of the policy committee to get more comments from Mrs. (Terri) Sessoms and her group as far as this goes.”
Smith responded, “First things first. If you don’t have time to adopt such a policy, I would like to have at least a commitment that you will take it up and have a vote on it because the citizens of this county are entitled to know the answer to that question.”
Sutton stated, “Like I said Mr. Smith I will be glad to talk with Mrs. Sessoms who is the chair of the policy committee – there is four on that committee – and discuss this with the entire board and consider this, but my question to you, if I am hearing this correctly, would you fund our school system at $79 million if this policy is adopted?”
Commissioner Smith said, “I am not prepared to answer that question, but I am prepared to say that if we don’t have something I’m not going to vote to increase it at all… but I’m not seeing any movement from you or Dr. Bracy from a general nonsense statement that something is or is not happening, not taking a firm stance. This is an issue we need to take a firm stance for our country.”
Mr. Sutton said, “I agree with you but at the present time it is not being taught in Johnston County Public Schools.”
Smith replied, “Then if it’s not being taught it should be very, very easy to adopt a policy to affirm that situation.”
Commissioner Larry Wood then asked Dr. Bracy about the failing public schools in the county and the superintendents promise to have all schools with a passing grade in three years. “Mr. Bracy, you’ve got 2023-2024, a hundred percent of Johnston County Public Schools will earn a school letter grade of A, B, or C. And right know, I think Mr. Stewart mentioned earlier, 15 of the 45 are subject to be, how close are they to be taken over by the state?
Dr. Bracy replied, “I am not aware of us being taken over by the state.”
Commissioner Wood said, “Maybe I am confused about that then. Well let me ask you, my question is, its 2021. What can we expect from our school system in 2022?”
Dr. Bracy responded, “To improve itself academically. That’s our goal. And had it not been for the pandemic we would have been further along…”
Prior to the end of the discussions, Chairman Sutton readdressed Commissioner Smith’s CRT concerns. “Mr. Smith I don’t believe this needs to be taught in Johnston County Public Schools or any other system in this nation. Let me just say that. My commitment is, we will discuss this further, but like Chairman Stewart says it can circumvent in a lot of different ways and a lot of different names and so forth. But Johnston County Public Schools is not teaching Critical Race Theory period.”
Sutton said he would take Commissioner Smith’s Critical Race Theory concerns to the policy review committee immediately. Typically it takes 60 days, or two board meetings, to adopt a new policy. Sutton said he could potentially expedite the process to 30 days. There was no commitment from Sutton or Dr. Bracy the JCPS Board would adopt the policy, only to discuss it.