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Texas Charter School Promising Culturally Responsive Teaching Forced To Remove ‘Antiracist’ Language From Website

Essence Preparatory, a future San Antonio charter school that faced a setback after Texas lawmakers opposed its anti-racist curriculum, is now looking forward to opening its doors. Akeem Brown, the founder of Essence Preparatory, was able to get approval for the new charter after removing all references to anti-racism from the school’s website and application, KWTX reports. Brown, however, had to spend an extensive amount of time and money due to the extra steps he had to take. 

“That took almost three months away from us in prepping and setting the stage for the scholars that we will serve,” he said. “We’re playing catch-up.”

Brown, who has been dreaming of starting his own school for a long time, was working for a city council member in San Antonio when he noticed a troubling trend in the area’s college-readiness rate. Hoping to change the trend, he began talking to parents and students about what they wanted to see in a school.

“He spoke about empowering people through knowing their race and their lineage,” Dre Daniels, a parent who met Brown at the barbershop where Daniels cuts hair, said. “When the parents and the school can be on the same level, the learning never stops.”

Brown submitted a 500-page application to the state in early 2021. While promising high academic standards, culturally responsive teaching, and a focus on learning about public policy in his application, Brown included a quote from author Ibram X. Kendi.

“The opposite of racist isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is antiracist,” the Texas educator wrote.

The Texas Education Agency initially became impressed with the idea and recommended the school to be granted a charter. A few months later, the state board voted 11-3 to approve the school.

The chief of staff for state Rep. Steve Toth then emailed TEA Commissioner Mike Morath, expressing concerns about the charter. Toth, who spearheaded the state’s first anti-critical race theory law, shared a draft of an op-ed in which he criticized the agency’s approval of Essence Prep.

“Unlike other charter schools who focus solely on academics, Essence Prep’s goal is to promote critical race theory and community activism,” Toth wrote in the op-ed he shared with Morath. “Promoting ‘antiracism’ in the classroom would mean teaching that the system of government in Texas, designed to protect economic freedom, is racist.” 

Although the op-ed was never published, it was obtained by Chalkbeat through a public records request. 

Brown later received an email from a TEA official, instructing him to remove certain “statements, authors, or written works” from the school’s website and application. He was also told to define the word “anti-racist,” and clarify sections of the application that emphasized community action and engagement in public policy.

After Brown followed the instructions, the school was granted a charter in October. Essence Preparatory now plans to open its doors in August.

Educators such as Joshua Weishart, a law professor at the University of West Virginia, are frustrated with Texas’ ambiguous law. 

“TEA lacks a statutory basis for instructing Essence charter school to remove the quote in their application,” Weishart said.

As Blavity previously reported, several states are pushing back against critical race theory, a subject that aims to teach the history of systematic racism in America.

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