School board candidates include, top row from left, Wayne Bouldin, Michele Branning, Connie Cullen, Kevin Glover, bottom row, Joe Helms, Brandi Jansen, Desareta Jones, Rachele Julian, Eric Mann, Celia McCarter, Dr. Nichelle Newton and Lipi Pratt.

    Where do Fort Mill School Board candidates stand on the teaching of critical race theory and the policy of DEI?

   We asked them, based on a question sent to us by a reader who inquired about the candidates’ positions on CRT as well as DEI, which stands for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.

   Below are their unedited responses.

   (For lengthy profiles of each candidate, click here.  For their final arguments released this week, click here.)

     Voters are picking four of these 12 candidates to sit on the Fort Mill School Board of Trustees. 

   Wayne Bouldin: “CRT is not allowed per SCDE and not included in the curriculum that they set for all SC school districts. It is also a term whose definition has been broadened beyond its bounds by political hyperbole.

   DE&I is another term whose definition has been skewed, and it is not the same as CRT despite the way some seem to use the terms interchangeably. FMSD is very diverse culturally, socioeconomically, and ethnically with residents moving here from literally all over the world. Equity does not mean bringing upper achievers down so that all perform equally, rather it means removing barriers to achievement which varies individually.

   Example (illustrating my point) – in any given classroom there are those with differing visual acuity (20/20, near sighted, far sighted). Equity would be locating students relative to their acuity such that all could see the ‘blackboard’ equally. That’s removing a barrier to learning.”

   Michele Branning: “Curriculum mandates come from the state legislators and the SC Department of Education, as do the book choices to teach from.  What a school district does is implement the strategies for delivery of the required content for the best outcome and results.”

   Connie Cullen: “When schooling stops being about academics and starts to become about political ideology, parents need to step up. I feel that ideas like CRT and DEI have no place in our classroom. While trying to fix the problems of the past, these ideologies harm our children today and damage their future.”

  Kevin Glover: “Regarding CRT and DEI, these are current hot button political topics in our society. My position is that I want the highest quality teachers focused exclusively on their mission of educating children, without distractions or administrative burdens. We have a political forum for adults precisely to hash out these issues, and students should not be burdened by them, nor should teachers, in their mission to deliver a quality education to our children. Let adults debate these topics freely in the political arena, but absolutely keep them 100% out of the classroom, and I am committed to pushing back against any encroachment on our educational mission.”

   Joe Helms: “While CRT is technically illegal (as it should be) in SC we are definitely seeing the inner workings of it being woven into our schools through DEI. I do not stand for anything that is rooted in division.”

   Brandi Jansen: “I think it is important when one is speaking about ‘CRT’ to know what he/she is referring to. CRT, as in Culturally Responsive Teaching, is simply keeping an awareness of students’ lived experiences, culture, religion, perspectives etc. when teaching. As a nurse, I equate it to caring for patients whose religion may forbid them from receiving a blood transfusion as part of their treatment, remembering some cultures feel it is dangerous to drink or eat anything cold while in childbirth and not offering ice chips, or understanding the importance of having a Priest come and give last rites to the dying or prayer before surgery.

   We know patient outcomes are improved when we treat the whole patient in this way. For teachers, being mindful of the whole student encourages a more meaningful education, a deeper connection to the subject matter, and an engaged, critically thinking pupil. DEI, or diversity, equity, and inclusion in the classroom is along the same lines and just ensures a ‘you belong’ environment for all students.

   It is baffling as a parent and caregiver to understand how those acronyms became bad words in education. CRT, as in Critical Race Theory, is a lens used in some higher education institutions, like law school, to examine laws and policies in historical context for the influence of racism. This is not taught or used in K-12 public schools.”

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   Desareta Jones: “ I am opposed to CRT and DEI. I view these theories as decisive and recognize the potential for students who are exposed to this teaching to suffer from generalized anxiety, depression and feelings of low self-worth. These conditions often result in the inability to form trusting relationships, which will impede the ability to be productive throughout the lifespan. 

   DEI, in particular, focuses on fixes to perceived systemic problems. I don’t recognize the value in burdening our children with these types of issues.”

   Rachele Julian: “I believe in a student’s first and parental rights approach. I will fight to restore parental rights while ensuring students have an educational experience free from CRT and DEI.”

   Eric Mann: “As a person of color, I continue to notice over 20% of African American students fail English, Math and Science. Programs need to focus on the academic success of every student, include those with learning disabilities and failing test grades.”

   Celia McCarter: “South Carolina’s Department of Education determines the curriculum that our educators must follow. Critical Race Theory is not a state standard; we do not teach it.

   I believe in strong conservative values. Across our nation, there are many groups who are pushing the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion narrative. In Fort Mill, I stand firmly behind our district placing emphasis on Math, Science, English and Related Arts. In addition, I believe students with special needs or learning disabilities should be included in our classes where they have an opportunity to thrive.

   As the top 2% school district in the nation (Niche Report, Sept 2022) and #8 Best employee in South Carolina (, Aug 2022), the Fort Mill School district draws employees, families and students from all over the world. Currently, we have more than 35 different first languages spoken by our students and parents that is not English. These unique roots bring differences in religious affiliations, income levels, political views, and family dynamics. However, the one similar piece that our community shares is the value placed on education and providing a wide variety of options and experiences for all our students. I believe that exposure and connection to practices different than our own bring an understanding that better prepares our students for future work environments and travel.”

   Dr. Nichell Newton: “The work of diversity, equity and inclusion is an opportunity to become rich with the perspectives and experiences of others. Diversity is the representation of, and respect for people from different backgrounds. Inclusion is actions that ensure all people feel they are safe, welcomed, and they belong. While equity provides fairness in opportunities so that all get what they need to be successful.

   Critical Race Theory or CRT originated in the mid-1970s among American legal scholars. It is the academic framework that examines how systems, policies and the law perpetuate systemic racism. CRT is generally taught at the higher education level.”

    Lipi Pratt: “As I have previously stated, there is a difference between Critical Race Theory and Culturally Responsive Teaching. I understand that many people think they are the same, so I will try to answer what I think is important for our students to learn regardless which letters or acronyms are used. 

   As far as public K-12 educators are concerned, we think it is important to have students practice respecting others. Respect includes understanding that some families have different cultural backgrounds and may celebrate differently. No educator I have ever worked with has tried to make a student feel badly about who they are or where they come from.  Rather, it is the exact opposite, we have worked to make sure that students feel proud of themselves and their heritage.

   We also have made it a priority to teach students how to disagree respectfully and see that sometimes people disagree with an idea but still value you as a person.  So where I stand is that it should be a priority for our schools to teach and model respect, even when a person is different.”

Greg "Ricky Bobby" Rickabaugh has lived in the Fort Mill and York County community since 2006. He has covered the area while a reporter for The Charlotte Observer and a freelance writer for The Fort Mill...