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New West Virginia Charter School Leader Has History of Fighting Critical Race Theory

photo by: Photo provided

James Paul

CHARLESTON – The incoming head of the board that approves new public charter schools in West Virginia has been fighting the latest culture war that dominated much of the 2022 legislative session earlier this year.

Adam Kissel, the chairman of the West Virginia Professional Charter School Board and its acting director since last summer, announced Tuesday the hire of James Paul as the board’s first full-time executive director. Paul will start his new job on June 1 and relocate to the Eastern Panhandle.

“On behalf of the Professional Charter School Board, we welcome James to the team,” Kissel said in a statement. “We are excited to have James lead our charter school network forward as it grows and matures here in West Virginia. James brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to the role and has access to a vast national network of expertise to bring the top best practices to the Mountain State.”

Paul is finishing up a doctorate in Education Policy at the University of Arkansas’ Department of Education Reform. He holds his bachelor’s and masters’ degrees from Syracuse University. He comes to the job after serving as a fellow with the Education Freedom Institute. He also worked as an associate policy director at the Foundation for Excellence in Education and a senior policy analyst at the Commonwealth Foundation.

“I am delighted to help West Virginia serve its students,” Paul said. “Each child is unique and deserves the education that best serves that child.”

Paul has penned and co-authored a number of papers over the year for conservative think tanks — such as the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation – on the subject of school choice. But over the last few months, Paul has focused on the issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and critical race theory (CRT).

In a paper published in February with Jay P. Green for Education Freedom Institute and the Heritage Foundation titled “Time for the School Choice Movement to Embrace the Culture War,” the authors argue that education reform advocates are not using the current politically divided atmosphere to push for more expanded school choice.

“Prolonged school closures, mask mandates, pornographic books in school libraries, the FBI designating parents as ‘domestic terrorists,’ and racial essentialism for third graders have elevated education policy to the forefront of America’s culture war,” Paul and Green wrote. “The school choice movement should adopt new tactics not only on policy design but also in respect to messaging … this means promoting choice to parents who are concerned about political activism and other so-called social justice trends in neighborhood schools.”

CRT concepts include anti-racism, the teaching that racism is systemic and embedded in American institutions and traditions, the ending of race-blind standards, and holding white people responsible for past transgressions against minorities and other marginalized peoples. Examples involving the teaching of concepts derived from CRT have made headlines across the country.

Despite only two such anecdotes of CRT-derived concepts being taught by educators in West Virginia, lawmakers attempted to pass two bills during the 2022 legislative session to deal with these concepts. House Bill 4011 for passage, creating the Anti-Stereotyping Act, failed to make it to the floor in time to cross over to the Senate. Senate Bill 498, the Anti-Racism Act, failed to make the midnight deadline on the last day of the 60-day legislative session on March 12.

SB 498 would have prohibited the teaching in West Virginia K-12 public schools that one race is morally or intellectually superior or inferior to another, that one race is inherently racist either consciously or unconsciously, and that an individual’s moral character is derived from their racial identity or that they bear responsibility for actions committed by those of similar racial backgrounds. The bill included a complaint and appeal process, as well as protections for free speech, historical discussion, and academic freedom.

According to PEN America, more than 183 similar bills have been proposed in 40 states since January, with 19 such “educational gag orders” already in law in 15 states.

During a legislative interim meeting last week, Kissel said two out of three of the state’s first approved brick-and-mortar charter schools are on track to open during the next school year starting this fall, along with two statewide virtual public charter schools. Applicants for the 2023-2024 school year must apply by Wednesday, Aug. 31.


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