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NC Board Of Education Approves Controversial New Social Studies Standards On Split Vote

A classroom in Gaston County's W.A. Bess Elementary School.
Ann Doss Helms
A classroom in Gaston County's W.A. Bess Elementary School.

The state Board of Education voted 7-5 Thursday to approve controversial new standards for teaching history and social studies in North Carolina’s public schools. The vote came after hours of board debate over the past two weeks and thousands of comments from the public.

The new standards have been in the works for almost two years. They strive to bring more diverse voices into classrooms and help students explore struggles against racism and oppression. Some argued that they shortchange America's strengths and promote a political agenda, while others say they provide a truer picture and encourage all students to be engaged.

Recent debate centered on the terms “systemic racism,” “gender identity” and “systemic discrimination,” which were revised in the final draft to "racism," "identity" and "discrimination."

Thursday's discussion was brief. Board member James Ford of Charlotte made a motion to return to the original phrases. Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who joined the board when he was elected in November, called the standards "irresponsible" and urged staff to "go back to the drawing board."

The final draft won approval, along with a preamble introduced by state Superintendent Catherine Truitt on Wednesday.

Voting for the standards were Chairman Eric Davis, Vice Chair Alan Duncan and board members Jill Camnitz, Reginald Kenan, Wendell Hall, Donna Tipton-Rogers and Ford.

Opposing were board members Olivia Oxendine, Amy White and Todd Chasteen, along with Robinson and state Treasurer Dale Folwell, who are board members by virtue of their elected offices.

Classes will start incorporating the new standards in August.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.