Is critical race theory being taught in Guilford schools? Some parents believe so. | #Education


GUILFORD — There has been an ongoing debate in town over equity and social justice since the high school’s mascot was changed last year from Indians to Grizzles.

Now the conversation has turned to whether the school district is teaching critical race theory in the classrooms.

While there has been support behind the effort led by Superintendent Paul Freeman and the Board of Education, some have shown up to meetings, written emails to the board, and created a petition, claiming critical race theory is being taught in Guilford schools.

Critical race theory’s core principle is that racism is a social construct, and is embedded in policies and legal systems, not just the product of biases or prejudice.

The petition, created last year by parent Danielle Scarpellino, states the unequal treatment of students, based on their race, is a serious problem in Guilford schools. It also says children are being punished “for sins they did not commit, and for a democratic infrastructure and way of life they had no part in building.”

The goal of the petition is to persuade the school board to disavow any curriculum, or critical race theory, that promotes the unequal treatment of students and label any resources, authors, professors and experts that can easily be proven to have “blatant bigoted views” as “radical activist theory.”

“The repeated declaration that the racist ideology, Critical Race Theory, is not a part of the school’s ‘Equity and Social Justice’ initiative, is inaccurate and disingenuous at best, and, when given in response to any parents’ sincere concern, it is intended to shut down all further inquiry and conversation surrounding this incredibly complicated topic,” Scarpellino wrote in a statement to Hearst Connecticut Media.

Freeman said he would not comment about issues raised by specific parents or community members, but released a statement, saying he realizes some may feel “uncomfortable.”

“We know that this work in which we are engaging is challenging, and that it makes some people uncomfortable,” he said. “We know that some people have spoken out, at times very inaccurately, about this work, and about the leadership that the board and I have tried to bring to this work.”

Freeman said he endorses a school board statement released April 26, stating critical race theory is not being taught in the classrooms, but that students are learning institutional racism is part of American history. The board chairwoman, Kathleen Balestracci, did not respond to a request for comment.

“Guilford Public Schools must strive to be a community in which all students feel safe, supported, and recognized, and must support critical thinking about all aspects of our history and current experience,” the school board statement said. “None of our students is responsible for this history, but each will be responsible for their own participation in our local, national, and global communities as they emerge into adulthood.”

This is being taught to students with historical and current documents, according to the BOE statement. Students explore the documents, analyze the arguments and the strength of the evidence supporting them before a classroom discussion is held, the statement said.

The statement also points out that some community members accused the district of changing the curriculum to support its goal.

“The equity and social justice initiative is not based on any particular ideology, curriculum, or text,” the statement read. “The school curricula have not been changed, and cannot be changed without public Board of Education approval.”

Scarpellino said the “word salad” of terms the school district is using, such as “social justice,” “anti-racist,” “hard history” and more, is a “subtle attempt to deflect our community’s serious concerns over real issues of social justice.”

Some of this backlash comes from the district last year purchasing copies of the book “How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi. In a March 4 meeting, Freeman addressed this by stating the book was purchased for teachers during the time of the school’s mascot change, George Floyd’s homicide and subsequent protests.

Freeman said the books were not purchased for the students. He said the intent was for the teachers to understand the students’ perspective during this time.

“‘How to be an Antiracist’ was purchased for teachers last year, and they each took a copy home for the summer. They were encouraged to read it. It is not a text identified in any of our curricular documents for students,” Freeman wrote in an email last week. He also said all school curricula can be found on the district’s website.

But Scarpellino said the district’s website also contains links to Hassan Kwame Jeffries’ “Hard History Ted Talks,” and David Kirkland’s definition of racism — one in a September 2020 letter from Freeman and another listed under “talking with students.”

Scarpellino claims these resources are used to promote critical race theory. She said she wants a public forum to discuss these connections with critical race theory and more transparency from the district.

Despite the community’s concerns, Guilford Public Schools is continuing to support its social justice and equity work by hiring a part-time equity liaison for next fall. The liaison will be “a resource to students and parents for addressing issues of equity and discrimination for any student feeling marginalized for any reason,” and will allow the district to track these instances, Freeman said.

Freeman said the position has not yet been filled, but he anticipates hiring someone before the start of the 2021-22 school year.

The district will also participate in the student-teacher residency program with 20 other school systems. The program aims to recruit and retain teachers of color in elementary schools across Connecticut, making them more diverse and inclusive.

Changes to the curricula will be implemented on the state level beginning in the 2022-23 school year.

In 2019, Gov. Ned Lamont signed Public Act 19-12, which requires all regional and local boards of education to include an elective high school course that provides students with a better understanding of the African-American, Black, Puerto Rican and Latino contributions to United States history. The course will not be mandatory.

High schools were able to offer the course for the 2021-22 academic year, but the elective will not be available in Guilford until it is required for the 2022-23 school year.


christine.derosa@hearstmediact.com



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