Board and administration say it isn’t happening
[ by Mark Reaman ]
Loud concern that Critical Race Theory (CRT) is being taught in the Gunnison Watershed School District classrooms was voiced after a contentious discussion over the mask mandate at the September 13 school board meeting.
More than half a dozen people spoke to the issue last week, most of them concerned that their children were being exposed to CRT and students were being taught that generally, white people were racist and Black people were victims in America. Many expressed the idea that the concept was one pushed by Marxist and communist countries meant to divide American citizens.
“Critical Race Theory and the 1619 Project are both inaccurate history,” Tom Barber told the school board. “They are being pushed by Black Lives Matter, a Marxist organization as is Antifa. The Marxist game plan is to cause chaos and fear to divide and conquer. China is laughing at us. Critical Race Theory teaches there are two types of people: if you are white, you’re racist whether you know it or not, and if you are Black, you’re a victim. Let’s teach the truth that we as flawed human beings have made mistakes in the past. But teach our kids to come together and not separate them. Communist countries are behind this.”
Jason Fries reacted with skepticism when told that Critical Race Theory was not being taught at the Crested Butte Community School. “That’s a bunch a horse manure,” he said. He related that when one of his children walked into the Language Arts classroom last year, it was filled with Black Lives Matter posters. “He was taught that white silence is white violence and if that isn’t Critical Race Theory, I don’t know what is. For me it is ridiculous to be told it isn’t being taught in school. When I asked about it, the principal had no idea about that classroom. These teachers can teach whatever they want, whenever they want. I want you guys (the school board) to do something about that. It is full-on all over the place.”
Katie Fries reinforced that view. “Our kids have gone to CBCS since kindergarten and I am concerned about politics and activism being integrated into the school,” she said. She cited teachers being visibly upset when Donald Trump was elected president, her son being singled out for saying that “illegal immigration” was wrong, and disagreements over climate change. “To be told that political issues are not being taught one-sidedly to children as a captive audience is absurd.”
Kelli Jennings asked directly if Critical Race Theory had been approved to be taught in the schools. School board member Dave Taylor responded “no.”
Nick Schwab said there were “major, major concerns about Critical Race Theory being taught in school.” He said that at a meeting with school board member Taylor earlier in the month, “the message he gave us was that CRT was being taught in the schools through ‘equity training’ or ‘equity labs.’”
Taylor responded that that was “a major misrepresentation” of the meeting but Schwab indicated his impression was that “equity inclusion was a guise for CRT. You guys (the board of education) have approved the training of teachers in Critical Race Theory?”
“The board does not approve or disapprove of particular classes,” responded district superintendent Leslie Nichols. She did say some district teaching staff has attended “equity labs.”
Taylor explained this week that he had met with the Gunnison-based group “Like Minded Voices” that included Schwab, and the group expressed concern over the district paying for staff to attend equity labs that pushed Critical Race Theory that would then be brought back to be taught to students in the classroom.
“Their complaint is that an equity labs is the same as Critical Race Theory,” said Taylor. “The teaching of CRT is their contention. My comment back to them was that I believed staff should avail themselves of a broad range of professional development topics to add to their breadth of knowledge. The rub with that group is that they equate equity labs to CRT. I don’t make the same conclusion even though I’ve never been to one.
“My meeting with the group was confrontational,” continued Taylor, “because I said teachers should be able to go to all sorts of professional development seminars. I’ve asked Dr. Nichols if Critical Race Theory is being taught anywhere in the schools and the answer was no. But some in this group are hell bent on creating an issue that I don’t think exists.”
“Those Critical Race Theory classes designed to teach hatred and anger toward white people,” said Schwab to the school board.
“I have no idea what you are talking about,” responded acting board chair LeeAnn Mick.
“Why are we paying for racist classes?” asked Schwab.
“You’ve posed a question and we will look into it,” said board member Tyler Martineau.
Nichols this week reemphasized that Critical Race Theory is not part of the Gunnison Watershed School District curriculum. She said an equity lab centered on racial awareness was held for school district staff that wanted to participate and it drew a dozen people. She participated in a separate equity lab put on by the county’s Juvenile Services but no students have gone to a lab through the school district. The district has spent $5,300 in district funds for the eight-session (90 minutes each) course for 12 teachers.
Ian Wrisley, a pastor of a congregation in Gunnison, said that indeed, “Black lives matter. I recognize as a white man I more easily move through the world than a Black man. That’s all we’re saying. Racism is a systemic reality we all live in. I hope the school is fostering conversation about race.”
Nichols said the staff and board are currently reviewing the questions posed at the school board meeting.