This past Monday evening, June 28th, was a historical moment in the history of our school district. Not only was it the first standing room only in-person meeting in over a year, we had a plethora of public input via public comment on non-agenda items. Specifically, there was a constructive exchange of points of view on Critical Race Theory (CRT) and whether or not it is a necessary tool for Elementary and Secondary public education and how it has been implemented in the classrooms of our district.
The event concluded with remarks by both the board President, Chris McCune (link here), and Superintendent, Dr. Jim Scanlon (link here). The most interesting of which was towards the very end when Dr. Scanlon affirmed that CRT is a necessary tool of education (link here).
Dr. Scanlon does go on the say that they do not “teach” a specific course on Critical Race Theory, but the conclusion of his comments is that the fundamentals of CRT have been instrumental in shifting behaviors within our district staff and administration.
This subtle distinction between the application or influence of CRT versus formal coursework is at the heart of our community debate. On one side there is strong conviction that CRT is a higher-ed only subject, that it is not taught in our schools, and if it were what is the harm? That to object to it is to be “anti-equity”. On the other side there is a groundswell of questions and concerns from parents and community members who have been asking the district for over six months to explain their position and application of CRT in the greater West Chester Area School District.
The resounding answer for those six months has been – there is no CRT in WCASD – but as you can hear from the reply Monday night that CRT is, and has been, part of the district’s strategy for the last ten years. Regarding Dr. Scanlon’s comment that there is “no specific course” taught, I cannot speak to the title or curriculum of every course in the district but I can tell you as a parent that I have seen first hand reading material provided to rising third graders that is based on Critical Race Theory.
I know, it sounds implausible. Why would a public school district – one that continues to assert it does not “teach” CRT – have a class on it? Let alone for rising third graders who are only 8 or 9 years old?
Well, not only did they offer it to rising third graders they also offered it to rising second graders…with an average audience age of only 7 years old. Here are the materials that I received last summer upon registering my rising 3rd grader for multiple summer learning sessions:
I also made my own public comment Monday night (link here) regarding my youngest son’s experience with a Social Justice course (pictured above) that was offered in the summer of 2020 and my concern for CRT’s place in public education, especially at the elementary level. Specifically without parental input or engagement regarding the introduction of CRT to such a young audience.
At first blush the session description seems fair, balanced, and without necessarily CRT being included. But reading materials provided to my then eight year old, as I describe in the link above, were without a doubt based on the principles of CRT. And I say this, not even knowing what the meaning of Critical Race Theory was this time last year. What I did know is that at a time in the world when race, racism, and social justice were being discussed in every home across America that what this reading material presented was not appropriate for rising second or third graders.
I am proud to say that when my child had questions about the story he was assigned that we sat down, read it together, and then had a productive conversation about it. I know, that sounds like a social justice victory. But my ability to guide him through these tricky concepts was only possible because one…he was doing all this coursework from home over zoom…and two because we have fostered an environment of open dialogue in our home.
There is no subject too sensitive, too taboo, or too uncomfortable for me and my husband. We have always felt that it was our most important responsibility as parents to have these “courageous conversations” rather than to shelter them from the world around them. Whether it be conversations about sexuality, gender, race, violence, politics, social media, peer pressure, internet safety, inclusion, neurodiversity, so on and so forth. Our children know they can talk to us about anything, without judgement, and that together we will navigate what ever they may have questions, curiosities, or concerns about.
So when my son shared his assigned reading with me last summer I was grateful to have the chance to help him explore the topic of Social Justice. It was only months later, while working with our large network of families who were working tirelessly to advocate for the reopening public schools, that I was able to put a name to what my son had experienced in that summer course. Critical Race Theory.
At the end of the day, what myself and many others are asking for, is not the exclusion of race, racism, or it’s factual history to be expunged from the public education system. Nor are we asking for an edited version of history or present-day events to be taught in our classrooms. What we are asking for is transparency – for our school district to acknowledge how they have applied it whether that be in staff training, classroom techniques, or actual course curriculum.
Back to my post earlier this week titled “Parent rights… Student rights… Community rights… and how my opponents feel about them?“, I encourage each and every one of you to exercise your right to ask questions of our school district. Be vocal. Be respectful. But most importantly…be engaged.
In addition to my non-agenda comment on Critical Race Theory, I also made a comment on the consent agenda earlier in the meeting (Iink here) where I make a request that we equitably pay our district employed aides – especially those working with our MDS students – who are currently making LESS than minimum wage. The consent agenda on Pupil Services, item number 9, specifically stated that our 3rd party contracted aides will be paid an additional $5/hr during the Extended School Year (ESY). For many, if not most, that will send them home with $22/hr which is almost 150% of minimum wage. Meanwhile our district employed aides, who show up day in and day out, to take care of our most vulnerable children are making less than $15/hr.
I hope every future board meetings attracts as much attention as this past Monday did. Because our School Directors need to hear from the community not just when it’s controversial, but every single month. There are so many opportunities for us to work together as a community and we cannot continue to rely on those few elected School Directors to carry the load alone. If you aren’t sure where to find information on the monthly general sessions, or the weekly committee meetings, you can find them on the district website (link here) or you can bookmark my page “WCASD School Board Events” where I will be publishing meeting reminders for those who would like to participate in upcoming sessions.
I hope everyone has a safe and fun 4th of July holiday weekend…and we hope to see you at next month’s board meeting!