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Cal State Fullerton Won't Send Student Teachers To OC District That Banned Critical Race Theory

Cal State Fullerton will no longer send student teachers to Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District, the first major response from an academic partner to the district's ban on teaching critical race theory.
(Matthew Gush
Courtesy of CSU Fullerton/Flickr Creative Commons)
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California State University Fullerton will no longer send student teachers to the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District after the district’s school board voted earlier this year to ban critical race theory.

Critical race theory is a decades-old academic framework that examines how racism has shaped, and continues to shape, laws and policies. Concepts associated with critical race theory rose in popularity in the wake of George Floyd's killing and, simultaneously, have provoked a backlash in recent years among some conservatives.

Cal State Fullerton's College of Education Dean Lisa Kirtman said in a statement that sending students to Placentia Yorba-Linda Unified for teacher training would place the college in conflict with its goals. She said the university aims to prepare teachers with "pedagogical approaches rooted in diversity, equity, inclusion, social justice, race and gender theories, cultural linguistic studies, social emotional well-being, and tenets of Critical Race Theory."

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Before this semester, 70 to 80 student teachers from Cal State Fullerton typically trained at Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified, the college said. Now, just six students from Cal State Fullerton are doing teacher training in the district, and, earlier this week, the college notified the district that it is pausing new academic placements for the remainder of the academic year.

What The District Banned

The resolution passed by the five-member Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified school board on April 5 prohibits district curriculum from including critical race theory "as a framework in any course offerings." The resolution, which passed on a 3-2 vote after months of heated discussion, also states:

“That the District supports efforts in education to promote equity, respect, diversity; celebrate the contributions of all; and encourage culturally relevant and inclusive teaching practices, but will not allow the use of Critical Race Theory as a framework to guide such efforts.”

Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified is one of the few districts in California to have put restrictions on teachings about race and racism. But at least 36 other states have adopted or introduced laws or policies with such restrictions, according to a March 2022 tally from the education publication Chalkbeat.

Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified’s curriculum has never included critical race theory — it's mostly an undergraduate or graduate-level concept — but school board trustee Leandra Blades, who supported the ban, said it was intended to make sure the framework doesn't slip into supplemental teaching materials.

In response to Cal State Fullerton's decision to stop sending student teachers to the district, Blades wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday:

"I find it extremely disrespectful and unprofessional that CSUF would send student teachers into our schools with the intention of bringing critical race theory and politics that do not align with our district curriculum. … This is proof that CRT is in fact infiltrating our schools through outside sources."

Blades told LAist last month that student teachers should follow the district's rules. "When you are hired, you're supposed to do what your boss tells you to do. So if the district is telling you 'don't teach this,' you just don't teach it. And I feel like we've lost that in this profession," she said. (A note: Student teachers typically aren't hired as district employees, and are unpaid.)

Cal State Fullerton’s decision comes in the midst of a heated battle for two school board seats in Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified. Two long-time incumbents, who voted against banning critical race theory and are supported by the teachers' union, are running against challengers who align with the nationwide, conservative "parental rights" movement and have promised to keep critical race theory out of the district.

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Lost Endorsement

Jennie Bremer, a history and ethnic studies teacher in the district at El Dorado High School in Placentia, said her "heart was breaking" when she got an email Monday about Cal State Fullerton's decision from Superintendent Michael Matthews. Bremer has overseen 16 student teachers from Cal State Fullerton during her career. She said:

"I teach them but I also learn from them. It makes it so I can keep fresh and know all the new stuff and it's really sad to have that taken away because of the politics that has taken over this school board. And it's supposed to be a non-partisan school board."

Bremer worried that the paused relationship with Cal State Fullerton would make it harder for the district to find teachers, and student teachers, in the future. "Once they establish relationships with other districts, it's going to be hard for [Cal State Fullerton] to come back."

Greg Franklin, a former superintendent of Tustin Unified School District who now teaches education leadership at the University of Southern California, said the biggest fallout from the breakup is likely Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified's reputation. "They've lost the endorsement, in essence, of Cal State Fullerton's School of Education."

Cal State Fullerton is just outside of the K-12 district and is one of the Los Angeles area's largest teacher training hubs.

Matthews, the district’s superintendent, said in a statement that the district was disappointed with Cal State Fullerton's decision and looked forward to continuing to discuss the district's "continued commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and culturally relevant and inclusive teaching practices."

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Updated October 20, 2022 at 9:25 AM PDT
This story was updated to include language from the school board's resolution that passed in April.