2021 IN REVIEW: Beaverton school board race makes national news
While the results were never in much doubt, the school board races in Beaverton were among the highest-profile elections in Oregon this past May.
Instructional time was an issue in the Beaverton School District, as it was virtually everywhere. Schools had opened the year in "comprehensive distance learning," switching over to a hybrid model earlier in the spring.
But the focus of the school board elections in Beaverton was on the school district's teachings — real or fictitious — around race and gender.
Like many conservative school board candidates around the country, Jeanette Schade — a Tigard resident who challenged Susan Greenberg for a seat on the Beaverton board — leaned into allegations that the Beaverton School District was teaching "critical race theory."
"There is absolutely no place for this curriculum which appears good on the surface, but it actually divides and teaches racism to students," Schade wrote in a question-and-answer feature Pamplin Media Group conducted with school board candidates.
A high-level academic concept that posits racism and inequality are perpetuated less by individuals' purposeful bias than by institutions, traditions and social mores, critical race theory (or CRT) became a popular bogeyman in U.S. politics this year.
Critics allege that educators are using critical race theory to instill "white guilt" and are, in effect, causing racism to persist by educating young people about racism.
Academics and educators say that's bunk. They point to numerous instances across the country of "anti-CRT" politicians attempting to redefine, and even ban, teaching about historical concepts like slavery and segregation and social ideas like diversity and multiculturalism as "critical race theory."
The Beaverton School District's website is silent on critical race theory, although it does use a different CRT: culturally relevant teaching, which district officials say encourages educators to be conscious of their own biases and assumptions, create a learning environment where all students feel accepted, and work to understand how students' "race, language, culture, gender, and class, along with prior knowledge of content, shape their beliefs and expectations about learning."
Nonetheless, Schade made critical race theory a central plank of her campaign platform, along with comprehensive sexuality education, another favored target of conservatives. She regularly posted statements and videos on her public Facebook page inveighing against those topics. Those posts almost invariably drew angry responses from commenters who criticized them as inflammatory and misleading. Schade dismissed many of her online critics as "antifa."
Schade also clashed on social media with district employees, whom she said had illegally removed her campaign signs near school property. (The Beaverton Education Association endorsed Greenberg, her opponent.)
The unusually fiery school board election even sparked protests against Schade outside Beaverton School District offices. Dozens gathered to wave signs in support of anti-racism and LGBTQ rights.
Schade's CRT-focused campaign also captured the attention of "Fox & Friends." The popular right-wing daytime opinion program hosted Schade for a May 8 segment that aired live on Fox News.
"Stay strong," host Pete Hegseth encouraged Schade. "You're clearly onto something if they're coming after you."
Schade and other conservative candidates in Beaverton effectively ran as a joint slate in May, although under state law, they were listed separately on the ballot. All four failed to crack 40% of the vote in the sapphire-blue school district; Schade lost to Greenberg by nearly a two-to-one margin.
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