The push to update social studies standards has been delayed a third time after a barrage of public comments on the proposed changes, including renewed concerns on how the nation's racial history will be taught in public schools.
State education leaders originally aimed to debate the issue during the December meeting of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. That timetable was pushed back to January after the state extended the public comment period on the draft standards from Oct. 31 to Nov. 30.
State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley told BESE last week that, in light of the large number of comments, he wants the issue delayed until the board's March meeting.
"My goal at this point is to take the draft standards that were written by the working group and approved by the steering committee and then take time to look at the public feedback and craft a set of standards that are ultimately recommended to the board in March," Brumley said in an interview.
The state collected 1,612 comments from 423 educators, parents and others. Orleans and East Baton Rouge parishes topped the list of those that weighed in.
"I just feel like if all those community members and parents took time to read the standards and offer commentary they deserve for me to read each one of those comments and take them into consideration," he said.
A steering committee of educators and others approved the recommended changes 19-1 on Sept. 28.
The action followed a volatile, five-hour public hearing in July that included charges the new benchmarks would include the topic of critical race theory in public schools.
The Wall Street Journal says critical race theory is a 1970s-era academic concept that says the legacy of White supremacy is still entrenched in today's society through laws and institutions.
Education Week, a national online publication, says it is a social construct that claims racism is not just the product of individual bias but something embedded in legal systems and policies.
The Associated Press says the theory examines the ways in which race and racism influence politics, culture and the law.
An LSU professor said the theory is about the centrality of racism and a commitment to social justice.
What the theory teaches is at the root of the debate.
Some argue that critics of critical race theory are trying to whitewash ugly parts of the nation's racial history.
But critics contend it's a not-so-subtle bid to make White students feel guilty about their race.
"Do not reinforce racism in our children by teaching them that some people are disadvantaged due to their skin color," said one comment on the standards for first graders. The comment was linked to a guideline that says, "Compare the lives of people today living in various communities, including those from diverse backgrounds."
Another view of a standard for K-12 students said critical race theory "is a back door allowing the teaching that one race is better than another. It also teaches that one group is oppressors and the other oppressed." It was linked to a benchmark that says, "Explain the importance of equality and diversity in building strong communities."
A former high school social studies teacher praised one of the guidelines for high school students. "Looking at history through the eyes of minorities and those under represented is so important," it says.
The comment was a response to a benchmark that says "Evaluate the social, political and economic changes that have influenced the interpretation of the Constitution and evolution of law from 1898 to 2010."
Others said the standards should be more specific, questioned whether state education officials were qualified to forge new benchmarks and questioned the use of the word "community" instead of America.
The benchmarks were supposed to be updated by 2017. They are set to take effect for the 2023-24 school year.
Brumley, a former junior high and high school social studies teacher, has vowed to keep anything resembling critical race theory out of public schools.
"We have to make sure that no standards open the door for any form of indoctrination of our public school children," he said.
Brumley said he views critical race theory as "anything that prompts discussions to be viewed simply around the lens of race."
House Education Committee Chair Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, said he expects the topic to be debated during the 2022 regular legislative session, which begins March 14.
Senate Education Committee Chair Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, has a different view of the chatter around critical race theory.
"It is overblown," Fields said. "I just think people are looking for issues that divide us."
The Democrat said the state faces a major crisis in its teacher shortage, which he plans to make part of his focus during the legislative session.
Rep. Kathy Edmonston, R-Gonzales, a former member of BESE who has had concerns about the revised standards, praised Brumley's plan to review the public comments.