Critical race theory fears are misguided, school officials say
While TLCSD starts Diversity, Equity and Inclusion work, some parents fear Marxist indoctrination
TUPPER LAKE — Some parents and grandparents of children in school here fear that critical race theory will be taught in classes, though school administrators say these fears are misplaced.
Critical race theory is a way to look at American law, history and society and how they treat people of different races. It posits that racism is baked into these systems.
It is a concept only discussed in higher education, and not one in the Tupper Lake Central School District curriculum. But fears of critical race theory, or CRT, in grade school have been stoked by national media outlets, such as Fox News, as some educators use national attention to racism to acknowledge American atrocities like slavery, the Trail of Tears or Japanese internment camps.
A local group called “Together We Stand” has requested several monitoring measures so parents, and anyone else, can keep an eye on what children are being taught in school.
The Tupper Lake Board of Education’s new DEI Committee is meeting for the first time today to begin discussing crafting DEI policies. All New York public schools have been asked to create these policies and there are similar committees in Saranac Lake and Lake Placid school districts.
Together We Stand members believe Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, or DEI, is CRT, but school board members say these are two different things.
Bobbi Jo Facteau, who has grandchildren in the school system, spoke at the meeting for Together We Stand, which she said wants “education free of bias.”
Facteau said she is worried that all children will not be treated equally, though equality is the stated goal of the DEI policy.
But Facteau is worried the DEI will be a “mask” for critical race theory.
Board members told her talking about CRT is in vain because that’s not what the school is implementing.
“It has nothing to do with critical race theory at all,” TLCSD Superintendent Russ Bartlett said on Tuesday.
Asked to define CRT, Facteau said, “Critical race theory is a theory that is brought about by Marxism theology, where you’re either oppressed or you’re the oppressor.”
She said this idea should not be taught until graduate school or higher.
In a letter Bartlett wrote to the school community about the DEI policy, he says it “does not require the teaching of any particular topic, theory, concept or idea.”
Critical race theory, a term previously known among some academic circles, has become a common buzzword in discussions of school curriculum after Christopher Rufo, a fellow of the Conservative think tank Manhattan Institute, used the term in a Fox News segment in September 2020.
“The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think ‘critical race theory,'” Rufo wrote in a tweet explaining his use of the term on air.
School boards around the country are fielding concerns about CRT. This coincides with New York schools introducing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion policies.
The filmed murder or abuse of Black people by police in early 2020, such as George Floyd, sparked national outrage and protests — including one in Tupper Lake. Across the nation, there were renewed calls for schools to ensure education is fair to students from all backgrounds.
In May, the state Board of Regents required all school districts to adopt a DEI policy.
“The contents of such a policy are ultimately matters of local discretion,” according to the Regents Board.
Bartlett said the district will establish a DEI committee to determine what will go in this policy. He said development of this policy will take as long as needed. He wants it to be a thoughtful and deliberate policy.
Facteau said she was not involved much in her five children’s education in TLCSD, as long as they were getting good grades.
“I did not pay attention,” she said. “I only paid attention now. Shame on me for my ignorance, because this was going on way back then.”
Now, she wants to monitor what teachers are talking about and assigning in the classroom and at home.
Facteau said she wants a portal where anyone can go on and see what homework is being assigned and what curriculum is being taught.
“We’d like to be involved a lot more of what our children are being taught,” Facteau said. “We’re trying to hold people accountable. We’re very, very nervous and scared that critical race theory is going to be implanted into the kids.”
Bartlett said there are standards for how teachers tackle political and controversial topics. For the most part, curriculum is dictated by the state, he said. Teachers can choose how it is presented or what avenues are used to present it, but in the end, their goal is to allow students to develop their own informed opinions.
When it comes to grading, Bartlett said it is the quality of an essay that is important, not the argument the essay makes.
“We’d like to know who and how the curriculum is being approved, because if we don’t know what’s in the curriculum then we can’t be on the lookout for critical race theory, which is our main goal,” Faceau said. “I think we have in Tupper Lake, I would think, the best teachers here. … But we also have to hold them accountable for what they teach.”
Bartlett said the teachers in TLCSD do a good job of teaching a diverse set of ideas.
“I think the teachers that we have here are really good at provoking kids to think about both sides of a situation,” he said.
Sometimes, a teacher will take up both sides of a debate, he said. He’ll receive conflicting complaints in the same day about a teacher, he said — one saying they’re pushing liberal ideas, the other saying they’re pushing conservative ideas.
He said teachers try to strike a balance when presenting political topics. The goal is to show students both sides of an issue to challenge them and promote critical thinking.
“We try to avoid relying on the ‘single story’ for complete information,” his letter about the DEI says. “Our students should hear about and see information from multiple perspectives and think critically about how they will incorporate that information into their overall picture.
“From the perspective of teaching about American history, it isn’t about minimizing, eliminating or reframing any of our history, it’s about ensuring that all groups are included in the telling of America’s history,” he wrote.
Tupper Lake resident David Hatchey asked if TLCSD has underlying racism problems the DEI is meant to address. Bartlett said there was no local incident resulting in this policy. It is a national topic and one the state is asking districts to address.
Facteau asked for more transparency and communication with the school board. She said board members’ emails were hard to find and she did not get responses to the emails she sent out. She did talk with Bartlett for around two hours on the phone, though.
She wants the school to create a committee to hear their grievances.
Bartlett said there’s always room to improve communication.
A lot of questions were asked at the meeting. Bartlett said most of them can be answered by reading the DEI policy. He’s compiling answers to send to the group.
Bartlett said he’d like to set up a forum specifically on the DEI policy to be held in the near future. Together We Stand members asked for the full board to be there, but board members told them that is against the law. If there are three or more board members in the room they have a quorum — enough members to change policies — and that type of meeting needs to be scheduled beforehand.
The first meeting of Tupper Lake’s DEI Committee will be held today at 4 p.m. in the Middle-High School library. It is open to the public and Bartlett asked that conversation remain “civil and functional.”