Sarasota Herald-Tribune | By Ryan McKinnon | July 15, 2021
Once again, this week’s Sarasota County School Board meeting was dominated by speakers alleging that school officials are overstepping their authority when it comes to teaching children about race.
In a scene that has been replicated in school board meetings across the country, speaker after speaker received hearty applause Tuesday for calling out district leaders for their alleged embrace of “Critical Race Theory.”
It is a term that has taken on numerous meanings, with some speakers apparently referring to any sort of education that involved racially controversial topics, and others seeming to refer to a legal theory that examines the role of systemic racism in determining why certain groups have negative outcomes.
Roughly 80 people filled the board room for hours of public comment on the issue.
One mother said that if the district was so keen on creating student activists, she would organize students to boycott the days when students get counted by the state to determine funding levels for the school.
“My children will not be back in these schools next year, period,” she said.
Superintendent Brennan Asplen repeated a speech he has made several times, saying that the district does not teach the theory.
That explanation has failed to mollify many of the activists speaking out against it, who have raised individual examples of lessons that pull from the ideas behind CRT showing up in classrooms.
While many news outlets have painted concerns over the theory as a culture war boogeyman, the nation’s largest teacher’s union just voted to endorse CRT to inform K-12 instruction.
The National Education Association passed a new business item at their meeting earlier this month that stated, “We oppose attempts to ban critical race theory and/or The 1619 Project (from the New York Times).”
“You can tell me all year long, ‘We’re not doing it, we’re not doing it.’ And I don’t believe you.”SPEAKER DURING TUESDAY EVENING’S MEETING
The item included provisions to “have a team of staffers for members who want to learn more and fight back against anti-CRT rhetoric” and stated that “it is reasonable and appropriate for curriculum to be informed by academic frameworks for understanding and interpreting the impact of the past on current society, including critical race theory.”
Such actions have coincided with national figures repeatedly dismissing concerns and saying no one teaches the theory, which may explain, in part, why local parents aren’t buying the district’s promises.
“You can tell me all year long, ‘We’re not doing it, we’re not doing it,’” one man said. “And I don’t believe you.”
Local support for CRT
While the crowd was overwhelmingly united in opposition to CRT, a handful advocated explicitly for the theory, potentially contributing to the confusion as to whether it is taught in schools.
One student called for the theory to continue being taught because without it, she said, their history lessons would be inaccurate.
“If (CRT) was to be taken out of (the) curriculum, we would be teaching children that Christopher Columbus made an agreement with native people that they would move,” one student said.
Another speaker asked the older people in the crowd if they had been pouring coffee on Civil Rights protestors in the 1960s, and alledged that white people would pull their children out of public schools so that they “won’t have to learn about the terrible things their grandparents did.”
In a Facebook post on Tuesday afternoon, the local Black Lives Matter chapter, BLM Manasota, vowed to defend teachers who promised to teach CRT.
“At least three Sarasota teachers have pledged to teach Critical Race history,” the post stated. “Anti-black organizations are calling for them to be fired. Support the teachers at the school board meeting today at 3 p.m. or call and email to demand justice.”
The post was referring to an online pledge from the Zinn Education Project that one active Sarasota teacher signed, promising to teach the truth about systemic racism. Two other area teachers had signed the pledge as well, but one is retired and the other works in Manatee, union officials said.
Superintendent pledges transparency
On Tuesday, the superintendent tried to reassure the community.
“We teach the Florida standards,” Asplen said. “We teach the Florida standards.”
The uproar over CRT had some community members questioning why the schools focus on the “achievement gap,” a term used to refer to the difference in outcomes between students of different races.
Asplen said the achievement gap studies are required by state and federal policies, and he said the district uses a multitude of strategies to connect with student groups that are not scoring as high.
“There is no single magic bullet,” he said.
In order to build more trust in the system, Asplen said his staff was putting together a curriculum guide, where parents could access the content and materials that teachers are using.