This week, President Archuleta joined Joel Heitkamp to talk about the upcoming school year in regards to COVID-19 and Critical Race Theory. Read the transcript below or listen to the audio.

Listen to the audio here. 


Joel Heitkamp [00:00:30]

I told you we’re going to have Nick Archuleta on. He’s president of ND United — North Dakota United. He represents and oversees the staff that looks out for public employees, whether that be that that man or woman out in the snowplow or whether it be that man or woman in your classroom. Those are the people that gave Nick the keys and said, “Look out for our interests.” And so he’s been doing that since 2013. Nick, good to have you back on News & Views. Thanks for coming on.

Nick Archuleta [00:00:58]

It’s my pleasure, Joel. Thanks for having me.

Joel Heitkamp [00:01:01]

I want to talk, if I can, a little bit about teachers going back in the classroom. And before we get to subject matter, I want to find out from you how apprehensive they are. You must have had conversations with them about how this is going to work, whether it’s going to be masks, whether it’s going to be socially distance, you know, where we’re going to be at next.

Nick Archuleta [00:01:22]

Yeah, well, I have had some conversations with teachers about this very topic. And you’re right, they are concerned. We’ve seen recently an uptick in the number of cases. There’s some concern over this new variant. But by and large, they are confident that their school boards will make the right decisions regarding procedures and protocols when they return to the classroom.

Joel Heitkamp [00:01:45]

So what are they? Because they aren’t universal. I mean, you could see some of the school districts I saw said, “We don’t care.” Some of the other ones said, “Oh, no, it’s got to be this, you know, this grade goes on this day.” I mean, some of them were were very, very strict. And so is there some uniform code that ND United looks to and says, “This is an example of what we’re getting at”?

Nick Archuleta [00:02:09]

Well, we have always encouraged school boards and administrators to follow the science on this. So with the reality on the ground in, say, Fargo might not be the reality on the ground in Westhope, you know. There are different levels of rates of infection and so on. So we continue to encourage them to be in close consultation with the Department of Health and with health care providers and their communities so that they make the best-informed decisions that they can regarding whether or not to mask at school, whether or not to have hybrid school or to have full-distance learning.

Joel Heitkamp [00:02:47]

Nick, do you believe that going into this school year that teachers should have the right to know who is vaccinated?

Nick Archuleta [00:02:56] Yeah, we believe that, frankly, that the more information our members have, the better decisions they can make for their health and safety as well. So we’re hoping that everybody avail themselves of the opportunity to be vaccinated. We wouldn’t be seeing this variant spike had everybody early on gotten vaccinated. The longer we put this off, the more chances that variants have to develop. And so we have been encouraging everybody that is physically able to please become vaccinated. That’s the best defense against any disruption to our school year.

Joel Heitkamp [00:03:37]

Now, let’s put ourselves in the classroom. There’s been a lot of talk in the very conservative Legislature that we just went through of what teachers can teach, what they can’t. South Dakota being a perfect example of politicians getting into curriculum issues, those type of things. And one of the issues that was brought up, Nick, that you aren’t allowed to broach, you’re not allowed to talk about all of these type of things is is what critical race theory is. Could could you and it would be best coming from you. Can you describe to people what critical race theory is as part of education?

Nick Archuleta [00:04:15]

Sure. Critical race theory, Joel, it was a concept that was born in higher education and specifically in the schools of law on our campuses around the country. And basically what it was, was a way to spark a discussion about why do we have persistent inequality and racial disparities in our country, despite the fact that our nation in the ’60s and ’70s (was) taking legislative steps to mitigate some of the effects of racism. Yet there we saw that along racial lines, that there was still these inequalities that are persisting. And so critical race theory is just that. It’s a theory. And it was developed to to ask those questions, to be vetted and to be debated in law schools, to see what are those causes? Is that something that’s institutional in various institutions around the country, like in the law, for example, or in lending, as another example, or just what is it? Critical race theory was never meant to be something that was meted out in K-12 education. And it is not in North Dakota’s K-12 education system,

Joel Heitkamp [00:05:23]

Should it be?

Nick Archuleta [00:05:25]

No, it shouldn’t be, frankly, because, I mean, we can address some issues like racism, I don’t know how you teach — for example, as an old history teacher — I don’t know how you teach the Civil War without talking about racism. I mean, the idea that we had slavery in this country kind of tells you that maybe we had different thoughts about race that we don’t have today. But one of the great things about this country — and I believe that this country is exceptional, but one of the reasons it is exceptional is the fact that we don’t run from our past. We examine our past, and we try to learn from our past so that our pursuit of a more perfect union is uninterrupted. We have to do that. And so whatever you call it, and it’s not critical race theory, that is something exclusive to higher education. But do the discussions happen about things that are going on in real time in our society?

Joel Heitkamp [00:06:19]

Certainly they do. Yeah, I mean, conversations enter into a classroom and to be banned from having a conversation? You know, I can understand it being at the college level, I totally respect your opinion on whether it should be at the K-12 level. But I can tell you this. Things come up in classrooms as a history teacher. It’s part of a debate that people have. And I’m not saying it should be taught as much, but we shouldn’t be afraid of the conversation if it comes to your neck.

Nick Archuleta [00:06:49]

Right. Well, here’s the thing. Critical race theory is just that, it is a theory. It’s not a curriculum. And there’s a very important distinction. But when we have some things that happen in our in our recent history, (like) last summer, for example, with the murder of George Floyd, that was a very real topic. And it was a historic moment in that it sparked a nationwide reckoning of race in this country, particularly as it related to police, and kids understand that. I mean, our students aren’t stupid. They watch the news, they read the papers, and they want to talk about these sorts of things, and they should be encouraged to do that. But then the teacher, there can be the facilitator of that discussion to help bring perspective. And I’m not saying bring their own personal point of view and shove it down your throat. That’s not what teachers do. Professional educators recognize when there is an interest in a particular topic, and they do everything they can to bring light to that topic so the students can get evaluated and make judgments based on the facts. Not on their teacher’s opinion, not on the opinion of news media, but on what they’re perceiving that historic moment to be had.

Joel Heitkamp [00:08:01]

A teacher very similar to you with the same theory that you have is an old history teacher. And he taught political science, history, those type of things. His name was Vern Wieland. His home originally was Streeter, North Dakota. And he practiced his profession in Hankinson. And in my classroom was Randy Boehning, who is one of the more conservative people to ever serve in the North Dakota legislature, and myself, who is a Democrat, the North Dakota Legislature. And I don’t think Randy or myself could tell you what Mr. Wieland’s politics were, but he allowed good debate in that room. I mean, we’re in the same room, two legislators, to put different political sides of the aisle. And I found out later on that Mr. Wieland’s politics were similar to mine. But that’s neither here nor there, though the point being that as an instructor, he allowed a good conversation. And I’m not comfortable with the Legislature telling people, you can’t have that conversation. It’s not as though it’s curriculum. That’s not my point, Nick. It’s as though you can put, you know, young minds in a room and let them talk to each other.

Nick Archuleta [00:09:14]

Well, I can tell you this from from experience, that if you want to shut a kid off or tamp down their interest in something, then don’t let them speak about something that actually interest of them. I think that you really miss a very important opportunity if you squelch discussion, particularly about an important topic, so, yes, you should have those discussions, but never should the teacher be the person saying, “This is my opinion, and this is what I want you to believe.”

Joel Heitkamp [00:09:52]

Nick Archuleta is our guest, and we were talking about critical race theory and just what happens in that classroom as part of a conversation versus curriculum and how they’re two completely different things. Nick, what I’m curious about in, you know, and I’m about to head down a rocky road here a little bit, but there’s such a separation in North Dakota because of reservations in North Dakota that at times I don’t think we understand each other’s culture at times. I don’t think that we’ve learned that much about each other. And how do we do a better job of that in the classroom?

Nick Archuleta [00:10:27]

Well, that’s a great question, and I would say that we have made some some leaps forward in that regard, Joel, in that we are seeing more Native American history. I think the Legislature just passed something last session regarding the inclusion of Native American history in schools. But I would if it were up to me, if I was in charge, I would make sure that we spent a little more time in professional development learning about each other, because here’s — I think in my view, anyway, this is the bottom line. People have to be able to see themselves in our history. It’s true. And especially in a state like North Dakota, European Americans played a huge role in North Dakota’s history, as did Native Americans. And if we’re not teaching those to completely and honestly, then I think we’re missing an opportunity to really impact the future.

Joel Heitkamp [00:11:26]

When you think of the people, and I know that you could start rattling off names of individuals that taught on the reservation and found their career to be so rewarding, but when you speak to them, when you spoke to them, when you represent them, what do you hear from them in terms of where our K-12 education is going? Do they — I mean, I can give examples of my question, but I think, you know, what I’m getting at in terms of the perceptions we all have of each other, in terms of how well their education is going. I mean, what do you hear, Nick?

Nick Archuleta [00:12:01]

Well, I hear that we don’t spend enough time talking about the victories that we have in education, not just on reservations, but across the state. So much of the time when we talk about education in North Dakota, we’re talking about things like this critical race theory or vaccinations every single day, and in every single classroom in this state, we’re seeing little miracles happen. I mean, kids are being educated. That is not an easy task to do. And the professional men and women that provide that education work very hard, not just during the school year, but during the, quote, off season, if you will, to make sure that they have they’re doing the latest things that they can possibly do to make sure that those learning opportunities for students exist and are enhanced.

So when I talk to folks across the state about education, that’s one of the things I’m hearing. Another thing, though, is that that we could probably be doing a better job of making sure that we are telling those stories, controlling the narrative, so that when people want to come into the state and push these false narrative like critical race theory, taking over a school or a school systems, that we can push back on that and do that effectively as spot.

Joel Heitkamp [00:13:13] Well said. That needed to be said in this conversation. Great point. You know, you look at what K-12 has done, North Dakota, I know there’s private schools, but there’s a lot of people that have the ability to send children to private schools who know that they’re getting a great education in the public schools, and it’s making them better people for that. And, you know, this state is somewhat of an anomaly in comparison to other states on that, Nick.

Nick Archuleta [00:13:41]

Yeah, and I think part of that is because, you know, we have relied on local control. And we do, in North Dakota, I mean, I don’t know of an elected official more than a school board member who is absolutely in touch with the people that elect them. I mean, they see them at the grocery store. They see them in church. They see them just walking down the street. Sometimes these people are connected. So, I think that the school board members are pretty well attuned to the communities they represent. And with any luck, we’ll make good decisions to make sure that their schools and their communities are what they need to to ensure that great education is occurring.

Joel Heitkamp [00:14:19]

Yeah, well, you guys do a great job. The men and women that that educate our youth in ND United, (are) great, great folks. We we never even got into what it’s like to be in a snowplow, Nick. But we can do that another day.

Nick Archuleta [00:14:32]

We will. It sounds great.

Joel Heitkamp [00:14:34]

Nick Archuleta, ladies and gentlemen, wonderful, wonderful person and tough job. A really tough job. … I mean, think what he just said. You know, we’re not talking about the good things that are happening in that classroom. We end up talking about things that aren’t happening in that classroom, like critical race theory. Right. But the day that you’re afraid to have a conversation is the day that learning stops. And that’s why I really appreciate that. One of the text messages that I got here where an individual said, “Yes, Joel, when I listen to your show, I hear both sides.” Thank you for that. And we’ll continue to do it here on News & Views. We will.