The debate surrounding critical race theory (CRT) nearly jeopardized a Black charter school in San Antonio, Texas from opening.
Essence Preparatory Charter School is a school designed with its predominantly Black and brown students in mind. “We want to create a space where Black and brown students will not only be stable but can thrive,” said the school’s CEO and founder, Akeem Brown, 29.
Brown says opening his own school has always been a dream of his, and in January 2021 his dream was coming close to reality when he submitted the application to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) for final approval, but they were caught in the middle of an ongoing debate surrounding CRT.
“I think we got caught in it because of the color of my skin because of the color of the individuals who make up my board. My board is 65 percent African-American, we aim to serve about 40 percent Black children in our community,” Brown said, explaining why he feels his application triggered the TEA to flag his application for further review, citing concerns related to CRT.
At issue, the school intends to create an anti-racist environment for its students. Brown says he included “anti-racist” within the school’s equity statement inspired by renowned author and scholar Ibram X. Kendi, who wrote “How to Be an Anti-Racist.” The term anti-racist drew the ire of the TEA, who claimed it violated Texas’ House Bill 3979 often referred to as the anti-CRT bill that became law in September 2021.
HB 3979 contains language often cited by conservatives opposed to CRT.
The law includes line items such as, “No school shall require or make part of a course, an individual by virtue of his or her race or sex is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive whether consciously or unconsciously. An individual by virtue of his or her race or sex bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex. [No] individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.”
CRT is centered around the idea racism is not solely the product of bias or prejudice, but it’s also embedded in legal systems and policies, as described by Education Week.
The TEA wanted Brown to remove anti-racist text within the school’s equity statement. “They asked us to remove the word anti-racist, and they asked us to remove any words from that author,” Brown said.
The TEA also wanted Brown to clarify his meaning of phrases like, “public policy driven approach,” “public policy advocacy program,” and “community actions.” Brown admitted he treaded carefully to avoid his application being rejected.
“I don’t think it mattered what I responded with, so, unfortunately, I sucked up my pride and took away what we believed to be bold commitments to launching a school in our community,” Brown said.
Brown admits he shed tears throughout the approval process, but the application was approved by the state board of education.
After being caught in the controversial CRT debate, Brown says what kept him and his team motivated were the 360 students and their parents who are relying on Essence Preparatory to open.
“Regardless of this HB3979, we still believe the core pieces of our model will remain true. We want to create a space where Black and brown students will not only be stable but can thrive,” Brown said.
The school is expected to open on Aug. 15.
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