Katharine Frey

Katharine Frey is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at

Virginia education agency proposes new history standards in public schools

The Virginia Department of Education proposed new standards on November 11, 2022, that aim to provide guidance to the state’s public schools on the Glenn Youngkin administration’s (R) preferred approaches to teaching Virginia and U.S. history. 

Every seven years, the Virginia Department of Education is required to update its History and Social Science Standards of Learning (SOL). Former Democratic Governor Ralph Northam’s administration had proposed its own history guidelines, which required schools to provide the following instruction:

  1. Teach lessons on the LGTBQ+ community and social justice
  2. Teach lessons on racism and discrimination
  3. Recognize holidays like Juneteenth
  4. Teach lessons on climate defense and renewable energy
  5. Halt the requirement of teaching some lessons on Christopher Columbus and Benjamin Franklin
  6. End the requirement of understanding why George Washington is called the “Father of our Country” and why James Madison is called the “Father of the Constitution.”

The Youngkin administration departs from the former administration’s proposed history standards by mandating the following lessons:

  1. Teach lessons for kindergarteners on patriotism, which includes pledging allegiance to the American flag
  2. Teach first grade students to learn critical thinking skills 
  3. Teach fourth grade students to be able to describe the Civil Rights movement in Virginia, why James Madison is called the “Father of the U.S. Constitution,” and why George Washington is called the “Father of our Country” 
  4. Teach fourth grade students about Reconstruction and the Civil War
  5. Teach eleventh grade students about Christopher Columbus and the race-based enslavement of Africans

Opponents of the proposed plan by the Youngkin administration argue it is politically motivated. “It’s just another attack on trying to make history what they want it to be,” argued James Fedderman, President of the Virginia Education Association.

Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow said that the intention of the policy is to have all students “engaged in fact-based and inquiry-based instruction throughout their education in an age-appropriate way,” according to the Virginia Mercury.

After delaying an August vote on the proposal until November, the Virginia State Board of Education voted 8-0 on November 17, 2022, to further delay the SOL review process until 2023. 

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Richland school board enacts new policy on race in U.S. history lessons

The Richland School Board in Washington state, which governs the 583rd largest school district in the country with 14,221 students, voted 4-1 on October 25, 2022, to adopt Policy 2360, which specifies how teachers can discuss race in U.S. history lessons. It is one of several recent responses to trends in curriculum development tracked on Ballotpedia.

Titled “Race, Culture, and the Curriculum”, Policy 2360 prohibits curriculum that causes students to become, in its view, “indoctrinated in the belief that the U.S. is fundamentally or systemically racist”, according to the policy guidelines. It also bars teachings that give preferential or disparaging treatment to any student. 

Krista Calvin, educator and president of the Richland Education Association, argued against the policy by saying, “The problem that I have specifically with this policy, as a teacher of 25 years in the state of Washington, is that I feel it paints all teachers with a very broad brush and furthers a nationwide agenda that’s really aiming more to villainize teachers rather than to lift them up as they try to do the important work they’re doing with students.” 

Richland School Board member and policy proponent Semi Bird, who requested the board vote on Policy 2360, argued in a candidate promotional video posted on Youtube last summer, “CRT is a Marxist and anti-American proposition that will poison our society and the minds of our children. We must not allow this divisive curriculum to enter our school system.”

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Arkansas school board requires students to use bathroom consistent with sex assigned at birth

The school board for the Conway School District in Arkansas on October 11, 2022, unanimously approved policies regarding gender identity in public schools. 

One of the policies requires that students use the restroom that matches their sex assigned at birth, though each district school must provide an accommodation to any individual who does not want to comply with the policy. The other policy passed mandates that students traveling on overnight trips for extracurricular activities, field trips, interscholastic activities, or intrascholastic activities be assigned to hotel rooms based on their sex assigned at birth. 

In support of the policy, state Senator Jason Rapert (R) attended the school board meeting and said, “For the first time in my entire representation in the Arkansas Senate have I ever felt led to come and speak at a school board meeting. I am proud of the school board members.”

Linda Tyler, a parent in the school district, opposed the board members’ decision. “It makes me feel sad because I personally know many transgender young women and young men, and I know the difficulty of their journey,” according to local news outlet THV11.

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Ohio school board passes resolution opposing state’s gender identity policy

The Toledo Public School District (TPS) in Ohio voted unanimously to pass a resolution on October 10, 2022, that rejects the Ohio State Board of Education’s (SBOE) resolution on gender identity policies in public schools. 

SBOE member Brendan Shea introduced the SBOE’s resolution on September 20, 2022, in opposition to the Biden administration’s (D) guidance aiming to expand Title IX’s discrimination protections to include gender identity and sexual orientation. Titled Resolution To Support Parents, Schools, And Districts In Rejecting Harmful, Coercive, And Burdensome Gender Identity Policies, the SBOE’s resolution includes the following provisions:

  1. Ask Ohio lawmakers to assist districts that resist Title IX changes with stopgap funding
  2. Require schools to notify parents if a student is questioning gender identity
  3. Support lawsuits against the Department of Agriculture that require schools to accept Title IX changes in order to get federal nutritional assistance
  4. Ask the state superintendent to issue a letter to all public schools directing them to view the proposed Title IX changes as unenforceable

When introducing the resolution last month, Shea stated, “It’s my sincere hope that the state Board of Education will pass this resolution to oppose the radical, and I would argue illegal, changes to Title IX.” The Ohio SBOE voted 12-7 on October 13, 2022, to send the measure to the executive committee, which has signaled that it will table the issue, according to local news outlet WHIO.

The TPS board members voted to reject the SBOE proposal. TPS Board Member Chris Varwig said, “We’re about student-centered decision-making. Whether that is curriculum, athletics, art. We’re going to focus on what matters to students and families and provide equitable education for all students.”

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Richmond school board passes transgender protection resolution in response to Virginia Department of Education’s transgender student policy

The Richmond City School Board, which oversees Richmond Public Schools (RPS) in Richmond, Virginia, voted 8-1 on October 2, 2022, to approve a resolution rejecting the Virginia Department of Education’s policy on transgender students. The policy, titled 2022 Model Policies On The Privacy, Dignity, And Respect For All Students And Parents In Virginia’s Public Schools, mandated the following approaches to transgender students in the state’s public schools:

  • Transgender students must use the bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their assigned sex at birth
  • The legal name and sex of a student cannot be changed unless official legal documentation or a court order is presented
  • Teachers and school officials must refer to a student by the pronouns associated with their sex at birth
  • Teachers are not required to use a student’s preferred name if they believe doing so would violate their constitutionally protected rights

The resolution, RPS Transgender Student Protection Resolution, formally rejects the new policies on transgender students put forth by Republican Gov. GlennYoungkin’s administration and affirms what the board views as its “commitment to providing protections for all students regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.”

The Virginia Department of Education stated in its description of its guidance that the policy aims to establish “the rights of parents to determine how their children will be raised and educated.”

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Texas State Board of Education approves changes to social studies curriculum

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) on September 26, 2022, voted 8-5 to approve changes to public education curriculum guidelines that aim to align with the requirements set forth in Senate Bill 3 (SB 3) concerning instruction about race in social studies curriculum. 

Texas lawmakers passed SB 3 during a 2021 special session following the prior passage of House Bill 3979 (HB 3979), which Governor Greg Abbott (R) described as “a strong move to abolish critical race theory in Texas, but more must be done.” SB 3, signed into law by Governor Abbott on June 8, 2021, does not reference the term critical race theory but prohibits instruction stating that an individual is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously, among other provisions. 

The law directed the SBOE to align the K-12 Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)—the state’s required curriculum and education content standards—with the new requirements. The SBOE in August failed to overhaul the full TEKS and instead sought to revise the existing curriculum standards. These revisions included the addition of civics lessons to the social studies standards on ”understanding the founding documents, civic engagement, and an appreciation of the United States and its form of government,” according to a statement from SBOE Chairman Dr. Keven Ellis. 

During a September 26 meeting, SBOE member Rebecca Bell-Metereau (D) discussed what she views as confusion in the education community regarding the language of the law and the stated goal of some lawmakers, including Governor Greg Abbott, to eliminate critical race theory instruction in classrooms. “People have talked about critical race theory without understanding what it is. The definition has become that this is teaching children to not like each other on the basis of race, which is not a correct definition of critical race theory,” said Bell-Metereau.

Pat Hardy (R), a board member from Fort Worth, emphasized that these revisions aim to provide better guidance on how to teach civics education. She said, “We’re working right now mainly on skills – specific skills – how to balance things, fact and opinion, that sort of stuff.”

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Virginia education agency proposes policies to clarify approaches to transgender students in public schools

The Virginia Department of Education proposed new policies on September 16, 2022, that aim to provide guidance to the state’s public schools on the Youngkin administration’s preferred approaches to transgender students. 

The new policies depart from former Democratic Governor Ralph Northam’s administration guidelines, which encouraged schools to let students use names and pronouns aligning with their gender identity without formal documentation. Titled 2022 Model Policies On The Privacy, Dignity, And Respect For All Students And Parents In Virginia’s Public Schools, the new education policy mandate the following approaches:

  • Transgender students must use the bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their assigned sex at birth
  • The legal name and sex of a student cannot be changed even with written instruction from a parent or student unless official legal documentation or a court order is presented
  • Teachers and school officials are only allowed to refer to a student by the pronouns associated with their sex at birth
  • Teachers are not required to use a student’s preferred name regardless of written instruction if they believe doing so would violate their constitutionally protected rights

The Virginia Department of Education stated that the policy “reaffirms the rights of parents to determine how their children will be raised and educated. Empowering parents is not only a fundamental right, but it is essential to improving outcomes for all children in Virginia.”

In response to the policy proposal, Mike Mullin, a Democratic member of the Virginia House of Delegates, tweeted, “Trans kids deserve to learn and thrive in an environment free of bullying, intimidation, and fear. That means being addressed as who they are and supported for who they will be. Especially from their teachers and their administrators.”

The general public will be allowed to comment on the proposed policy using the Virginia Regulatory Town Hall website. 

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Washington school board passes new curriculum guidelines on U.S. history and race topics

The Kennewick School Board in Washington state unanimously voted to adopt a new set of curriculum guidelines on August 24, 2022, that aim to restrict teachings on U.S. history and race. 

Kennewick School Board passed a new policy, known as Policy 2340, that would prohibit teachings that the U.S. is fundamentally or systemically racist or that a group of people is inherently racist, oppressed, or victims. The policy also seeks to bar politically leaning content from being included in course curricula, including the “1619 Project” and the “Zinn Education Project.” 

In reference to Policy 2340, Kennewick School Board member Gabe Galbraith said during the school board meeting, “Anytime in politics, there’s give and take. Could this have been stronger? I think so. But we had a great discussion in June and everyone was able to voice their concerns and thoughts, and I think we were able to capture that in this policy.”

Rob Woodford, president of the Kennewick Education Association teacher union, argued critical race theory was never a part of the curriculum and that the policy would not change current teaching methods. “Educators in Kennewick have always done a great job presenting factual information to students in a professional manner, and that will continue to be the case regardless of incendiary — but, ultimately, unsubstantiated — issues, which tend to rise up and then fade away,” he said.

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Texas school district limits discussions of race and gender, pronoun use, and certain books

The Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District in Texas on August 22, 2022, approved a policy by a 4-3 vote that would limit classroom discussions of race and gender, pronoun use, and certain library materials. 

The approved policy:

  • Allows educators to use pronouns that align with a student’s biological sex rather than their gender identity
  • Prohibits transgender students from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity
  • Bars teachers from including political advocacy in their curriculum and awarding students academic credit for political activism
  • Forbids K-5 students from engaging in classroom discussions regarding sexual orientation, gender identity, and race
  • Permits school board members and parents to oppose library materials 
  • Authorizes the school board to not have to reconsider banned books for at least a decade

In support of the policy, board member Casey Ford said, “These policies are the product of input from several groups — the board’s policy committee, the district’s attorneys, the board’s attorneys, a committee of administrators and principals and, most importantly, community members.”

Mike Sexton, a parent in the school district, disagreed with some of the board members. Sexton said, “You can talk about Santa Claus, but you can’t talk about gay people to fifth graders. This is incredible — you’re acting like people don’t exist. There’s thousands of people in this district that are LGBTQ, that live here, that are taxpayers,” according to the Texas Tribune.

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Parents sue Tennessee school district over curriculum including race and gender topics

A parent group on July 8, 2022, filed a lawsuit in the Twenty-First Judicial District against Tennessee education officials and the Williamson County school district for allegedly violating state laws restricting teachings on race and gender.

Tennessee House Bill 580 aims to prohibit school districts from incorporating materials into the curriculum that portray the United States as racist or sexist, or that make students feel uncomfortable because of their race or sex. Parents’ Choice Tennessee, the parent group, claims the school district’s English/language arts curriculum contains what the group considers to be age-inappropriate material that discusses topics of race. The group is seeking for the school district to permanently remove the curriculum. 

Trisha Lucente, a plaintiff in the lawsuit and the founder of Parents’ Choice Tennessee, said that she would prefer a “true English Language Arts curriculum that teaches phonics, classical literature, and is free of any politics or political agenda,” according to Education Week.

Jennifer Cortez, co-founder of an organization that advocates for students of color in the school district, disagreed with  Lucente’s claims by sharing, “[m]y daughter went through these Civil Rights modules and didn’t feel one ounce of white guilt about it. She just felt sad that that happened. Meanwhile, our students of color are dealing with actual harassment.”

The case was pending before Tennessee’s Twenty-First Judicial District as of August 5, 2022. Tennessee as of 2021 was one of 17 states that had imposed restrictions on curriculum material in public schools concerning topics such as race, gender, and sexual orientation.

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