Alicia Inez Guzman: The battle over critical race theory reaches New Mexico
For Searchlight New Mexico, reporter Alicia Inez Guzman looks at how the critical race theory panic as come to local school districts and crashed straight into the state’s mandated improvements in educational standards.
Conservative opposition to school board proposals has been mounting in Las Cruces since last spring, when the district passed a sweeping reform entitled Equity and Excellence for all Students, which sought to undo the harms of decades of discrimination and assimilation in the education system.
Amidst the contentions over that and the gender inclusion policy, the state’s Public Education Department released a draft of New Mexico’s social studies standards, crafted in response to the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit. The landmark ruling in the case established that New Mexico’s education system was so inadequate that it violated the rights of students, including children of color, Native Americans, English-language learners and students with disabilities.
Extensive reforms were ordered in the aftermath, and PED set about updating its social studies standards, releasing a 122-page proposed draft last September — a time when rhetoric about critical race theory (CRT) happened to be at a fever pitch. Resistance was swift.
Over the next 45 days, PED received 2,909 pages of written correspondence about the proposed new standards and 109 verbal comments at an online public hearing on Nov. 12. It was the most feedback the agency had ever gotten, according to Gwen Perea Warniment, PED’s deputy cabinet secretary.
In Las Cruces, the proposed standards dovetailed with other flashpoints like COVID-19 vaccines and mask-wearing, creating a crucible of conservative anger. Political opposition flourished, as did membership in a small nonpartisan citizens’ group, Coalition of Conservatives in Action (CCIA), founded last March.