By Luke Rosiak
School systems across the country are seeking to abolish honors classes, teach how math has been used to oppress people, and let truant students into gifted schools. Advocates say the moves are aimed at diminishing an achievement gap between demographic groups.
In one county, a busing initiative led to a populist uprising and rare bipartisan unity. Parents spanning races and parties say they did not ask for the changes, but politicians are pushing them through, anyway.
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In October, Seattle public schools unveiled a “framework” to inject “math ethnic studies” into all K-12 math classes, teaching “how math has been and continues to be used to oppress and marginalize people and communities of color.”
Students will be asked to “identify the inherent inequities of the standardized testing system used to oppress and marginalize people and communities of color” and “explain how math dictates economic oppression.”
“Why/how does data-driven processes prevent liberation?” it asks. “How important is it to be Right? What is Right? Says Who?”
The curriculum was pushed by the school district’s ethnic studies program manager, Tracy Castro-Gill, who on Oct. 19 tweeted a picture with her “Marxist ringleader” and said the “next step is matching “INDOCTRINATED” t-shirts!”
“I am an educator of color in Seattle whose job is anti-racist work within the school district. Seattle is very white — nearly 70%. It’s also one of the most liberal cities in the US, and these liberal, white Seattleites hate being called racist, but the thing is – a lot of them are,” she wrote.
Though she was hired by the superintendent and the school board, Castro-Gill said criticisms of the math proposal from one board member’s Asian wife were racist. She also asked people to “help me push” the board and superintendent to oppose “rewhiting.”
Castro-Gill wrote on her blog that her mother is white and her father is Hispanic, but that she has a strained relationship.
“I’m fairly radical atheist and consider myself a far left anarchist who fights for racial justice,” she wrote. “My parents are both Trump supporting Republicans.”
She is also at odds with her child’s father after their child declared herself “nonbinary” after reading literature about transgenderism.
A spokesman for Seattle’s superintendent, Denise Juneau, did not return a request for comment.
In Howard County, Md., the school board appears poised to proceed with a plan, drafted by an out-of-state consultant, to bus 7,300 students out of their neighborhood schools to adjust the distribution of impoverished students in each school — despite that no discernible constituency is asking for it.
The county council said its goal is to “address the achievement gaps by racial and socioeconomic factors.” The plan would move students based on how many receive free and reduced meals in those neighborhoods.
Additionally, Howard is the most-integrated school system in the state, the Baltimore Sun reported. But the county council’s resolution says any school with less than 40% white students is defined as segregated.
In Howard County, 39% of students are white, meaning that by its logic, if every school exactly reflected the racial makeup of the county as a whole, every school in Howard County would be segregated.
Resident Carl Manganillo testified Oct. 10 that the board had heard 2,500 comments with opponents outnumbering supporters of the plan 100-1.
“As far as I can tell, the only proponents of this plan are the politicians,” he said.
Asian, white, black, and Hispanic parents marched in the streets in massive protests. “I want to stay with my friends,” a fourth-grader pleaded. “Keep the ‘unity’ in community,” a black mother urged.
More than 80 people spoke at a hearing Oct. 7, and not one of them wanted the plan to proceed, CBS’s Baltimore affiliate reported.
Lori Grant, who is an assistant director at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — the federal government’s anti-discrimination arm — and the mother of a black student in a Howard school, testified in her personal capacity that the school board should not proceed with the plan and that it is likely illegal.
“Basically, they could care less what the parents think,” resident George Henry said in a letter to the Baltimore Sun.
In a Facebook group that quickly attracted 4,000 members, a near populist revolt fomented, with members pledging to vote every Howard politician out of office.
Larry Walker, a member of the Attendance Area Committee that helped form the plan, is also a pastor at Celebration Church, and said at a Sept. 8 service: “We have a partnership with the school system and the superintendent is looking for brown people to show up and put our voices behind this plan that he came out with — it’s a bold plan and the community is hatin’ on it right now — they’re hatin’ on it — so he needs … he needs some allies, folks.”
School spokesman Brian Bassett did not respond to questions from the DCNF about what kind of partnership the government has with a church, and why the superintendent was “looking” for people to support a plan rather than drafting one with organic public support.
New York City
In the nation’s largest school system, a panel appointed by the mayor proposed in August to eliminate the city’s gifted and talented schools and programs in the service of racial integration garnered front-page New York Times coverage.
The proposal would end the practice of gifted and talented schools screening students by exams and grades — and even block considering students’ attendance records at their previous schools.
It also said it was unfair that students who were not fluent in English were “underrepresented” in the most rigorous academic programs.
“If you get rid of testing, you’re open to subjective decision-making … you’ll see a lot of parents send their children to private schools, and you’re just furthering the income gap,” David Lee of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance told New York’s CBS affiliate.
Robert Cornegy, a black Democratic city councilman from Brooklyn, told the Times the proposal seemed to come from “uber liberals” and said minorities are not served well by taking the rigor out of education.
“If you eliminate the gifted and talented program it eliminates the chances of getting into specialized programs and institutions of higher learning,” he said. “Just like there’s a pipeline to prison, there is a pipeline to higher academic success and college.”
Jonathan Plucker, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the National Association for Gifted Children’s board, told the Times, “You can say everyone is being treated the same, but if they are being treated poorly, that’s a horrible form of equity.”
Still, New York schools chancellor Richard Carrenza said “this is not about lowering the bar.”
In May, three white school administrators sued Carrenza’s Department of Education for $90 million, saying “DOE has swiftly and irrevocably silenced, sidelined and punished plaintiffs and other Caucasian female DOE employees on the basis of their race, gender and unwillingness to accept their other colleagues’ hateful stereotypes about them,” the New York Post reported.
LaShawn Robinson, then the executive director of the DOE’s Office of Equity and Access, said “values of white culture are supremacist,” according to the lawsuit. Robinson replaced Lois Herrera, a Harvard graduate who had worked for the schools since 1986, with a black man, stashed her belongings under a stairwell, demoted her three levels and transferred her to the Bronx, it stated.
Another plaintiff, Jaye Murray, was forced to report her activities to the new boss every 30 minutes, it said. The third plaintiff, Laura Feijoo, was replaced by a black woman who did not have the necessary license to do the job, it stated.
Separately, a fourth white female former employee, Leslie Chislett, sued New York’s DOE for $20 million. Chislett had spearheaded a campaign to promote Advanced Placement classes for more students, but “Unfortunately, under Chancellor Carranza’s leadership, something has gone very wrong with the Equity and Excellence agenda,” she told The Post.
All DOE employees were forced to undergo “training” sessions that told them a desire for “excellence” was part of “white supremacy,” Chislett’s lawsuit stated.
“There is white toxicity in the air,” DOE senior executive Ruby Ababio-Fernandez said in a school presentation, according to the suit.
A spokeswoman did not return a request for comment.
In Fairfax County, Virginia, the school board eliminated the position of Chief Academic Officer and replaced it with a Chief Equity Officer. It also proposed revising the boundary-drawing process to remove “instructional effectiveness” and “the impact on neighborhoods” as factors, in favor of “the socioeconomic and/or racial composition of students.”
For 18 months, the board repeatedly discussed an imperative to gain “equity” in school demographics, but with an election Nov. 5, it suddenly sought to distance itself from the rhetoric.
The board is “not considering boundary adjustments at this time,” spokeswoman Kathleen Thomas told the DCNF.
The school system hired a consultant to study boundary changes in the context of its “equity” policy. Parent Laura Timmins told the DCNF she suspects the board is looking to offload it onto a third party to shield politicians from blowback for moves that are unpopular with residents.
Prior to community uproar, the board seemed to recognize that residents would not be in favor of the plan, and that subtlety would be imperative. Board member Karen Keys-Gamarra said in a school board meeting that “I have no problem with certainly alerting the community as gently as we can, because, like you, I’m not sure I want to hear about this for the next 10 years.”
When constituents from an area with a high-performing school told their school board member, Janie Strauss, that such changes could plummet their home values, Strauss flatly denied any changes were afoot. But she also told colleagues at a board meeting she had “warned” the school’s community that a “big chunk is going to be reboundaried.”
Board member Pat Hynes appeared to acknowledge that removing children from their schools in the name of racial integration would be for naught if the existence of rigorous honors classes still separated children based on test scores.
“Changing school boundaries must be primary tool of integrating schools for diversity. But equally important is ending counter-productive sorting-and-separating that creates segregated schools-within-schools. Goal = integrated classrooms,” she tweeted from a presentation at the National School Board Association’s 2019 conference.
In one school in Fairfax, 78% of students failed “plain English Algebra” and 30% failed a basic competency test in English, leading Timmins and other parents in the second-richest county in the U.S. to wonder how their children could apply to competitive colleges if they were required to take the same classes.
The racial focus of the 12-person school board — fueled by its eight white Democrats — led liberal residents to turn against the party, with one saying she’s cast ballots for Democrats in every election since 1971, but “when it comes to this year’s County level races that will not happen.”
It also hired Dr. Keith Brooks as Director of Equity, who compared himself to Trayvon Martin and said “my questioning, or asking questions, or looking at things through an equity lens comes off as belligerent or angry.”
In protest against a board they perceived as being unresponsive to their constituency, some residents pledged to vote in November to deny a funding request the school system says is needed for a new school.
“Khalifa was paid $90,000, Dr. Brooks got $138,000, and you’re saying you don’t have enough money for education, then what are you spending it on this stuff for?” Lynn McHale, a member of Parents for D112 schools, told the DCNF.
“There’s a girl who came home from school and cried and said I wish I wasn’t white after she was exposed to this ‘equity’ stuff,” she said.
“The superintendents of the nearby jurisdictions have joined into a group called Reimagine Minnesota, and it’s pushing race,” she continued. She suspects it wants to “consolidate into one metropolitan school district, where they would bus inner city kids from Minneapolis to the suburbs,” relating to a lawsuit called Cruz-Guzman. Reimagine Minnestoa says its purpose is a “collective action plan to address integration.”
Celi Haga, a school spokeswoman, told the DCNF the school’s system was not fulfilling its mission “as long as the outcomes for groups of students are meaningfully different.”
At a contentious, standing-room only school board meeting, when residents voiced opposition to the increasing role of race in education, “They told us not to clap, that they would shut down the meeting.”
Some people who spoke in favor of the initiatives were teachers at the school system, taking up limited time from parents. McHale said teachers have been told not to voice criticism of the initiative.
“The way I view it is a coach should try to make everyone a better player, but you never hold someone back,” she said.
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