Gov. DeSantis appoints civil rights lawyer, critical race theory critic Kimberly Richey to Education Commission of the States

Kimberly Richey, a civil rights lawyer and high-ranking education administrator whose opposition to critical race theory (CRT) matches that of Gov. Ron DeSantis, is the newest member of the Education Commission of the States.

On Thursday, DeSantis appointed Richey to the commission, an interstate agency that translates research, advises states and acts as an idea-sharing platform for education leaders.

A news release from the Governor’s office did not specify whether Richey will replace someone from the commission’s Sunshine State members or if she would fill a vacancy. Florida statutes state the commission “shall consist of seven members representing each party state.” There are only six listed members from Florida now.

Florida Politics has requested additional information and will update this report.

If Richey does replace anyone, it’s likely it’ll be Henry Mack, her immediate predecessor as senior chancellor at the Florida Department of Education. Mack left the DOE to join The Southern Group, Florida’s largest lobbying firm, in June as an education consultant.

In August, DeSantis named Richey — who’d previously worked as assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education under former President Donald Trump and deputy superintendent of the Virginia Department of Education — as Mack’s successor.

Richey’s education credentials also include work as the managing director of federal advocacy and public policy at the National School Boards Association and as counsel for the Oklahoma State Department of Education, Oklahoma Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training, and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, according to her LinkedIn profile.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in education from Southern Nazarene University and her juris doctor from the University of Oklahoma.

In August 2021 while she was a senior fellow of education with the conservative Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs think tank, Richey penned an article offering “guidance for parents” of children in private schools with CRT in their curriculums.

The article included phrases DeSantis has and continues to use, including the assertion that CRT is meant to “indoctrinate children.”

“The teaching of CRT’s core tenets can be destructive and have a deep impact on students. No child is defined by the color of their skin. Moreover, the teaching of these devastating principles violates the basic religious tenets many of these schools claim to uphold,” she wrote. “It is time to get involved and stop the use of these racially divisive and exclusionary practices.”

Officially organized in 1989, CRT centers on the core principle that race is a social construct and racism extends beyond individual bias or prejudice into a society’s legal systems and policies.

In the case of the U.S., the theorem takes into consideration the enslavement, segregation and unequal legal treatment of Black people that led to imbalances in influence over institutional structures and, consequently, deficits in political, social and financial power.

Many conservatives, Florida’s Governor among them, have rejected CRT as needlessly divisive and counterintuitive to racial equality.

In December 2021, DeSantis introduced the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act” to ban public lessons on CRT or any other teachings that tell students they are inherently racist, sexist or oppressive because of their race, color, sex or national origin. The measure also prohibited instruction that could make students feel guilty for the past actions of their demographic forebears.

Of note, critical race theory is not taught in Florida public schools; however, the Governor has argued some aspects of the concept have infiltrated classrooms, particularly through lessons on history and social sciences.

He signed the measure into law in April 2022, declaring, “we are not going to use your tax dollars to teach our kids to hate this country or to hate each other.”

But the bill has led to educational changes many find troubling, including the removal of books from school libraries on Black history, Cuban history and Amanda Gorman’s poem, “The Hill We Climb,” and changes to the state’s African American history standards. Most notably, Florida’s recently adopted K-12 curriculum includes framing labor skills slaves developed as potentially “applied for their personal benefit” and disproportionate conflation of violence against Black citizens in racially charged attacks with violence by them.

Richey and DeSantis also share similar beliefs about the participation of transgender people in athletics.

In August 2020, as the U.S. Department of Education’s acting assistant secretary for civil rights, Richey sent a lengthy letter to leaders of Connecticut public schools stating, among other things, that the state treated transgender girls “more favorably than other male student-athletes, by affording them the opportunity to compete on and against teams comprised of members of the opposite sex.”

Roughly 10 months later, DeSantis signed a bill barring transgender females from playing on public school teams intended for student athletes assigned female at birth. It also strengthened the ability of female athletes, colleges and universities to seek civil damages against governments, licensing or accreditation organizations, or athletics associations if they suffer “direct or indirect” harm related to violations of the law.

“In Florida, girls are going to play girl sports and boys are going to play boy sports,” he said at the time. “We’re going to make sure that that’s the reality.”

Richey, a certified teacher, will join five other members of Florida’s contingent to the Education Commission of the States. The organization’s website shows its membership as including Mack, DeSantis, Polk State College President Angela Falconetti, Miami Gardens Sen. Shevrin Jones, Sarasota Republican Rep. Joe Gruters and Lecanto Republican Rep. Ralph Massullo.

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