Iron County Commission passes resolution opposing critical race theory

Iron County Courthouse, home of the county commission chambers, Parowan, Utah, June 28, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

PAROWAN — Although the Iron County Commission admittedly has no authority over public education, commission members have unanimously approved a resolution opposing the teaching of critical race theory in public schools.

“It’s not an ordinance; it doesn’t have any teeth,” Commissioner Paul Cozzens said during the commission’s regular meeting Monday as he made the proposal. “It’s a statement of what we believe.”

Cozzens said the wording of the resolution was closely modeled after the one that had been written and proposed by Iron County School District Board of Education member Dave Staheli during the June 22 school board meeting in Cedar City. Staheli’s motion, which also was a nonbinding resolution, failed by a 3-2 vote, although he has indicated he plans to rework the measure and reintroduce it at a future meeting.

Cozzens said he spoke to Staheli after last week’s school board meeting. 

“I talked to him the next day and expressed my support for his efforts,” Cozzens said. “I thought it was well done.”

“I asked him if he wouldn’t mind if I took his resolution and adapted it to change a little bit of the language,” Cozzens added, noting that Staheli had agreed.

One of the language changes made by Cozzens was specifically mentioned during the public comment period by resident Ron Pisaturo. 

“I’m happy about this slight change in wording from the wording that was in the school board’s version,” Pisaturo said. “The school board said critical race theory should never be taught. This version says critical race theory should never be the basis for teaching. And there’s an important difference there.”

Pisaturo said it is good to teach about “evil ideologies.”

“It’s good to teach a mature student, let’s say, a high school senior, what communism is, what Nazism is and what critical race theory is,” he said, “but what’s so wrong is to accept an evil ideology as a framework, as a basis, as a premise for all the teaching. And that’s what critical race theory demands. And that’s what they’re doing.”

Pisaturo was one of several citizens who spoke on the issue during the meeting’s designated public comment period. All of those who commented said they were opposed to critical race theory.

“It’s got no place in Iron County,” Kenneth Bauer said. “It’s got no place in our country. It’s got no place in this world, in fact. It’s very divisive.” 

One woman who commented but didn’t state her name, said, ‘I feel that CRT is trying to teach our children that they need to apologize for things that people they’ve never met, and may not even be related to, have done wrong.”

“They should be taught to continue to lift and help and be a support to people around them but to not take responsibility for the things that they haven’t done themselves,” she said.

Iron County engineer Rich Wilson addresses the county commission during its regular meeting, Parowan, Utah, June 28, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

County engineer Rich Wilson also weighed in.

“We have, in this country, grown quite a bit. We’ve improved quite a bit. We are recognizing some of our foibles, some of our mistakes, and we are correcting those,” he said, “but critical race theory says, ‘You’re not doing it fast enough. So we’ll tell you how and what you have to do.’”

Wilson agreed with the woman who said teaching critical race theory is not teaching individual responsibility.

“It’s teaching collectively that we’re at fault.”

After the public comment period had ended, Commissioner Marilyn Wood said she thought the commission needed to send a message that, “here in Iron County, we do not support it.”

Wood also spoke of divisiveness.

“This divisiveness has been going on for a long time but really strongly the last little while,” she said, citing the issue of the Cedar high school Redmen mascot, which recently resurfaced at a county school board meeting. “I’ve lived here for many years, and I’ve never seen so much divisiveness. It was really, really harmful for our community. A lot more harmful than people realize. I think it cut to the core of who we are, our history, our heritage that is so important to us here in this county, and in Utah.”

“I just think it’s really important that we stand up and send a message for that very thing,” Wood added. 

Commissioner Mike Bleak noted that in addition to messages of support from several constituents, he also received some who were against the idea of the resolution.

“I received several messages from different constituents, some I knew well, and there’s a few that I don’t know very well, in opposition of this resolution,” Bleak said. “Some of the concerns were that a resolution of this type would be more divisive.”

Bleak said that while he appreciates such concerns and takes them seriously, he also received “a lot of input in the positive.”

The resolution, a full copy of which can be accessed by clicking here, concludes with the following paragraph:

Be it further resolved that Iron County show a united front by calling on the Iron County School Board to pass the same resolution and express our support of the resolutions in both the Utah State House and Senate and call on the Utah State Legislature and Governor Spencer J. Cox to pass and sign legislation prior to the 2021-22 school year to prohibit Critical Race Theory curriculum and employee training and/or professional development on this and like concepts in Utah’s public education system.

Cozzens said that while he doesn’t necessarily think the teaching of critical race theory is or has been prevalent in public schools, he believes it’s important to take a stand on the issue.

“I don’t know that it’s being taught that much,” he said. “I think that it’s important, though, that we come out ahead of it and state where we stand as different bodies.”

Cozzens said that critical race theory is “inherently racist” because it pits one group against another. 

“Just because someone is born a certain color, they tell them they’re inherently racist,” he said. “I think that’s something we need to try to move past in our country. I mentioned my particular family and the different cultures and races I have in my immediate and extended family, and I think it adds value to our family. We love the different cultures and see it’s a wonderful thing. We cherish all the races, and I personally do love them.”

Immediately after the meeting, Cozzens reiterated his rationale for proposing the resolution.

“I pray for the day when we can all become colorblind, ignore different colors and races and just realize we’re all Americans in this country, and move past this divisive curriculum and agenda that’s being pushed.”

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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