SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – After Springfield Public Schools (SPS) teachers were given a “teaching guide” using Critical Race Theory concepts, State Rep. Craig Fishel sent a Sunshine Request to the district seeking all documents mentioning any of 24 terms often associated with CRT. Those terms included white privilege, white fragility and systemic racism, among others.
However, the school district’s response – including an invoice totaling over $190,000 for the cost of retrieving the documents – brings up major “integrity and transparency” issues, according to Fishel.
“Integrity and transparency are the two issues I deal with,” Fishel told The Heartlander. “Don’t tell me you’re not teaching [Critical Race Theory] and then your staff brings me information showing that you are. This is a public school.”
“I have grandkids in the public school system here in Springfield. I want to know what they’re telling my granddaughter and grandson.”
According to Fishel, he received a “Critical Race Theory training guide” that SPS handed out to their teachers during an annual teacher training session. He then confronted former SPS Superintendent John Jungmann about the teaching guide, but Jungmann refused to acknowledge that CRT was making its way into their schools.
Realizing he may have discovered some transparency issues within SPS, Fishel decided to find out for himself how prevalent CRT and related concepts are inside the school district via a public records request.
“We asked for the [CRT] material for the last three school years,” Fishel said. “They came back and said ‘We will have to go through all of the computers in the entire system individually.’ After each item was looked at, it was a $194,000 Sunshine Request bill to find out if Springfield Public Schools are teaching any form of Critical Race Theory.”
“But even if it had come in at $25,000, I would’ve had the same reaction.”
SPS also told the State Representative that the public records request would take a total of seven years to complete.
Although he has no objections to black history being taught or any other school material that is factually accurate, Fishel says CRT is subjective and doesn’t have any basis in fact.
“I am not opposed, in any way, shape or form, to teaching black history in the curriculum,” Fishel said. “Just don’t say that my granddaughter is privileged and has caused the black community grief. She had nothing to do with it, she’s in first grade.”
The school district claims that the time and cost burden of fulfilling the Sunshine Request is due to the large amount of employee hours needed to search for the documents.
However, Fishel is an elected state lawmaker and SPS is a tax-funded public entity. Therefore, many believe there should be little to no cost for retrieving public records from a tax-funded public entity, and giving them to an elected public servant.
“We have a real transparency problem. If there was some integrity and transparency, this could probably be over quickly. But I don’t see that happening.”
“My bottom line is, teach my grandchildren facts,” he demanded.
Fishel also believes that the sky-high cost of the request is due to the exorbitant amount of materials the district has gathered over recent years regarding CRT and its concepts.
“I think it’s been on its way a lot longer than the parents and we realize,” Fishel said. “I think that COVID-19 brought it out because the parents started seeing what the kids were working on at home.”
Fishel isn’t alone in that belief, either. In the past 18 months, parents across Missouri have raised concerns about school districts sneaking CRT and similar concepts into school curricula without notifying parents.
BACKLASH AND CRITICISM
In July, Francis Howell School District in St. Charles County came under fire for hiring Critical Race Theory specialist Dr. LaGarrett King to help develop race-based courses. In a workshop he held for the FHSD curriculum writing team, King advocated for teachers to hide CRT material from parents by using different terminology but to relay the same race-based concepts.
FHSD received vast criticism once again in September for removing all advanced courses in their middle school for increased “diversity, equity and inclusion,” a main pillar of Critical Race Theory.
In April, Rockwood School District’s Literacy Speech Coordinator received widespread backlash after she also advocated hiding the race-based curriculum from parents in order to teach it without their knowledge.
On Sept. 15, hundreds of Missourians gathered at the Capitol building to protest the teaching of CRT and similar concepts in public schools, among other things.
“The only way to change the school districts’ policies is to put a state law into effect that says you cannot teach blame or judgement based on race, sex, gender, national origin or religion,” event organizer Andy Wells said. “And if [school districts] legally can’t teach blame or judgement, then they can’t teach Critical Race Theory.”
Wells and many Missourians may get their wish as CRT has gotten the attention of several elected officials recently. In July, Sen. Josh Hawley introduced the Love America Act to promote patriotism in public schools and prevent the implementation of CRT into school curriculum. The bill is currently awaiting a committee hearing.
The immense backlash at school board meetings for teaching CRT and race-based courses has reportedly been too much to handle as the National School Boards’ Association recently asked the FBI to investigate disgruntled parents and equated their concerns to “domestic terrorism”.
According to Fishel, the exceedingly high bill to complete the Sunshine Request wasn’t because of a large workload associated with retrieving the documents. Instead, he believes it was a way for Springfield Public Schools to avoid complying with the request.
“It’s a blatant, in your face, ‘No, we’re not going to do it,’” Fishel said. “It’s a backdoor for them not to answer the questions.”
Fishel noted that he is able to ask Speaker of the House Rob Vescovo to get a subpoena for the records, but he hopes to avoid that and to be able to find a different solution to the issue.
Thankfully, there is some legal precedent that may be applied to Fishel’s request. In 2019, the University of Missouri was found to have violated state law by requesting over $82,000 in response to a public records request from an animal rights group. The judge ruled that the request was unreasonably high and ordered Mizzou to fulfill the request along with paying the appropriate fines.
Fishel said he has meetings this week with the chairs of both the Senate and House Education Committees along with meeting with legal counsel to figure out their next step and finding a possible solution.
“We’re just trying to figure out what to do and how to respond,” he said.
Springfield Public Schools did not respond to The Heartlander’s request for comment by the time of publishing.
As SPS holds firm against the request and Fishel searches for the next step in retrieving the records, the school district can expect more pressure as Critical Race Theory in public schools continues to be a top concern of parents.