Critical race theory legislation sets the stage for State Board of Education race

Amid high-profile political debates about how Texas students study race, gender, and sexuality, three El Paso educators are vying for a seat on the State Board of Education, which sets and reviews curriculum standards and approves textbooks for public schools.

Laura Marquez, Melissa Ortega and Omar Janar are vying for the Democratic nomination in November in the ballot for constituency 1, which covers 30 constituencies from El Paso to the suburbs of San Antonio to Laredo. About 45% of El Paso is in District 1. Two Republicans are pushing for the party’s main nomination.

Democrat Georgina Perez, who is retiring in December after two terms, is currently in office.

— Sponsored link —

Melissa Ortega

The 15-member state council has a history of politicizing sex education and evolution, and has just begun reviewing social studies curricula, the first since state lawmakers passed a law last year restricting teachers’ discussions of race and racism. Recently, the board was criticized for appointing a former professor who promoted lies about the 2020 election results as an advisor on curriculum content.

“Having someone who really understands the curriculum at the deepest level … would really help the colleagues I will work with at the state level,” Ortega said. “I could really stand up for the needs of our faculty, students and our community regarding STEM education.”

Ortega, 40, a former high school science teacher who now teaches women’s and gender studies at the University of Texas at El Paso, said her experience in science education has prepared her for the upcoming revision of the science curriculum. She taught for seven years in the independent school districts of El Paso and Sakora and worked for three years as Assistant Director of Personnel Development at EPISD. Her doctoral degree focused on science, engineering, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

Perez supported Ortega to succeed her.

The 39-year-old Marquez is supported by another heavyweight in the world of El Paso education: Mary Gonzalez, D-Clint, vocal defender of public schools. The Texas branch of the American Federation of Teachers also supported Marquez.

Laura Marquez

Marquez spent seven years as a special education paraprofessional in the Illinois School District before earning a master’s degree in social work from UTEP. She is currently a Research Fellow on Developmental Disabilities at the Paso Del Norte Children’s Development Center, which engages children with disabilities to local resources.

“I would like more children to learn about disability,” Marquez said. “The curriculum should be inclusive and represent all groups – race, ethnicity and ability.”

Marquez said she would approach the discussion of public policy on education through the prism of disability, saying: “If we design policies to be the best for the most marginalized community, we can make it better for the whole community.”

Janar, 42, opened the Leadership Academy in El Paso in 2014 and has since expanded the state charter school to two campuses serving nearly 300 students in sixth through ninth grades. Prior to that, he taught social studies for five years in the independent school district of Round Rock outside Austin and a year at EPISD.

He is running for an open State Board of Education because “the county needs radical change and innovation in the way we approach education in general,” he said. The pandemic has highlighted long-standing technological needs in schools, he said.

In particular, Janar would like more study materials to be digitized so that students can log in and complete at their own pace, allowing more individualized learning for students who need extra support.

Omar Janar

The State Board of Education has also been instructed to approve or veto applications for new statutory schools, sparking disagreement among Democratic candidates.

Marquez and Ortega said they would continue Perez’s tradition of rigorously checking applicants. Both candidates oppose statutory schools because of their lower level of state control compared to traditional public school districts. Of particular concern to Marquez is that the statutes serve, on average, fewer students with disabilities than traditional public schools.

Janar, however, said charter schools play an important role in the public education system. He sees them not as a replacement or competitor to traditional public schools, but as a supplement, describing them as “innovation labs” that can help solve problems in public education.

If none of the candidates gets more than 50% of the votes in the primaries on March 1, the first two who get the votes will move on to the second round of voting on May 24.

According to reports on the financing of the election campaign for January 18 and 31, Janar raised $ 2,500 and Marquez $ 2,780. Ortega raised $ 300 in her January 18 report; she did not submit a January 31 report covering the period from January 1st to January. 20 fundraising period.

The Republican candidate seeks to prevent CRT from entering classes

Two educators from the San Antonio District are participating in Republican Primary District 1: Michael “Travis” Stevens, a language arts teacher and training coach at Northside Independent School District, and defectologist Lani Pop.

Stevens, 40, has been a teacher for 11 years and said he was motivated to run after learning how few educators work on the state council.

Michael Stevens

“We need more educators on the board who know exactly how this policy affects students and teachers in the classroom,” he said.

His company’s website says he will fight to ensure that sexual books do not end up in our school libraries and in curricula that are not evidence-based, such as CRT (Critical Race Theory), in our classrooms. ».

District leaders and teachers overwhelmingly argue that CRT – the basic level for studying systemic racism – is not taught in public schools. Asked about these positions, Stevens said politics has no place in education.

“We need to understand the terrible things that have happened (in the history of Texas and the United States) because of people’s ignorance and prejudices,” he said. “It needs to be taught, but in terms of facts, evidence, not politicized, not with some hidden agenda, to the theft of any group of people.”

Books should not be taken from libraries without prior review, he said, adding that he advocates a rating system for books to determine age.

Pop, who lost to Democrat Rebecca Bell-Metero in the November 2020 general election for a seat in constituency 5, now lives in constituency 1 because of redrawn maps from the state’s 2021 restructuring. She did not respond to interview requests sent to her company’s email and website.

Stevens raised $ 341 for his campaign, according to reports of funding for his election campaign. Pop said she is not raising money for her company.

Cover photo: Texas textbooks. (Photo by Corrie Boudreaux / El Paso Matters)

Leave a Comment