DOWNTOWN – July was hot. Still, the weather brought in heatwaves that were lighter than an average school board meeting in America last summer.
In Downingtown, people have spoken out against the controversial Critical Race Theory and the hiring of a new Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. A petition has even been circulated.
At a school board meeting in July, new freshman Mackenzie Gillespie of Upper Uwchlan Township said critical breed theory had done more harm than good by increasing “the space between people in today’s society “.
Gillespie is a first year student at a regional private school, Villa Maria. She was able to speak at the July meeting because she lives in the Downingtown School District as a resident of Upper Uwchlan.
The teenager said she was in seventh grade at a local school on an ‘affinity’ group project, that she and her peers had to rank in one of 35 categorical identification options from. race, ethnicity and gender.
“All that has done is pull us apart and classify ourselves according to our differences,” Gillespie told officials from the Downingtown School District.
âBefore critical race theory came up in class, none of the kids I knew thought about race or gender,â Gillespie said.
âChildren should learn to see themselves as a whole community, not to see the division between us based on our physical appearances,â she said.
The student called critical race theory “outright racism.”
âNo four-year-old should have to talk about race in school,â Gillespie added.
Downingtown Area School District (DASD) communications director Jennifer Shealy said the critical theory of race and diversity, equity and inclusion are not the same.
âWe understand that there has been some confusion in our community and across the country regarding diversity, equity and inclusion (DCI) work in our schools,â said Shealy. âThe term ‘Critical Race Theory’ or ‘CRT’ has been spread in the media with the claim that schools teach this theory or that work on diversity, equity and inclusion is the same as CRT. The CRT is an academic movement of academics and civil rights activists who seek to critically examine the law as it intersects with issues of race. This is currently not taught in DASD and there are no plans to do so in the future.
Says Shealy: âThe cultural diversity of our student body has more than doubled in the past 10 years. “
At a board meeting last winter, members voted to hire Justin Brown as director of diversity, equity and inclusion for the Downingtown School District.
“The role of the Director of DCI is not to create or design a new educational program, such as Critical Race Theory,” said Shealy.
However, he will make recommendations to change the curriculum. âThis relates not only to race and ethnicity, but also any other considerations that we need to be aware of when providing education to all students,â Shealy said.
Parents speak out
Parents from diverse school backgrounds spoke out against diversity, equity and inclusion and critical race theory in Downingtown at the school board meeting on July 14.
Lindsay Helm of Downingtown, who has a son in second grade, said parents believed critical breed theory was already being taught in district schools. She said the district promoted liberal political supporters in a March newsletter during Women’s History Month. âIt was clearly not a diverse representation of women,â she said.
Helm alleged that during a conference call with district leaders, Brown, the new director of diversity, equity and inclusion, said his goal was to dismantle the education system, then handed over in question the founding of America. Several board members interrupted Helm, saying personal attacks were prohibited.
âIt’s not personal, but it’s the leadership of this initiative,â Helm said. “What happened on that call troubled me the most was that I mentioned that I had a business, and the next thing that was said was that it was because of my “white privilege” – not a single person has asked me about who I am as a human being. “
Helm said she wasn’t trying to upset people as the board continued to interpret her comment and encountered objections from the public. Most of the crowd encouraged Helm to continue as she attempted to deliver the rest of her remarks.
âThere are always two sides to every story,â said school board president Jane Bertone.
âLooks like we don’t ask people about their own individual differences. We don’t engage in those conversations, âHelm said. She said people should listen and not judge people by their skin color.
âThe emphasis and hyper-focus on race will only divide us,â Helm said.
Also during the July 14 public comment, Tara Adams of West Bradford Township said that terms such as diversity, equity and inclusion are used to camouflage critical breed theory in Downingtown.
Adams said the district is promoting books on critical race theory that national institutes have flagged as teaching racist rhetoric.
âIt breeds hatred and division,â Adams said. âWe want all children to feel accepted. What I expect is that teachers teach math, science, reading and writing and not engage in social engineering that no teacher is qualified to teach.
Shannon Grady is a world-class triathlete and scientist from the Township of West Pikeland.
âOur community is very diverse. It’s very tight-knit, âGrady said, noting that she has worked with hundreds of children as a volunteer and added that none of them see race or color.
Grady said the district’s pushing race-based books is totally unacceptable.
Grady then presented a petition with over 400 signatures for the removal of the “unconstitutional DCI program”, along with its director and any staff positions to implement DCI policies.
Father of three Jeremiah Shelton of Wallace Township said everyone supports diversity “but we also want equality.”
Of the books on diversity that the district now recommends as part of its diversity, equity and inclusion, he said: âWe have books that have been approved and this is not to mend equality, it is not. is not to fix racism – it is politically based.
In one of the children’s books on ABC, the writer teaches that “C” stands for “Corporate Vultures,” Shelton said. He said another book on the district’s website tells about a child who ends up selling his soul to Satan for land because of his “whiteness.”
âIt’s kindergarten. Can we stick to “C” for “Cat”? “
Shelton said everyone is different and the District shouldn’t teach anyone to feel less based on their skin color. âWe are teaching segregation again,â he added.
And unlike those who signed the petition, other parents have spoken out in favor of critical race theory and the district’s new focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.
Parent Rachel Krammer of West Pikeland said the petition signed by hundreds of community members to end the diversity, equity and inclusion agenda touched her in the stomach.
âThis district needs this program,â Kramer said of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, noting that she is Jewish. Kramer shared an experience with one of his children over the past three years. Kramer said she expected a level of inclusiveness which she then realized was not a reality in the district, including a particular focus on Christmas in the Downingtown School District.
In December, three years ago, Kramer said his son had finally come home from school “and asked if we could become Christians since everyone is.” My heart broke.
The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion program, Kramer said, teaches âa sense of belongingâ and also serves as a guide for teachers on how to be more inclusive.
Jezel Jones of West Bradford, the grandmother of a district student, said: âIf you tell me you don’t see color then you don’t see me. She has a seven year old granddaughter in the district who is MÃ©tis.
âWhen it comes to DCI, there is nothing you can do but follow it. It is essential that all of our children understand. This is essential for all of us as adultsâ¦ If we don’t teach our children to be respectful by our example, we have a problem, âJones said. “And if we don’t give them both sides of the truth, it’s like giving them one side of a coin – it’s worthless.”
Downingtown has approximately 13,000 students.
And while the theory is debatable, depression is dangerous.
Four downtown teens, including one who had recently left the neighborhood when it closed in 2020, committed suicide last spring, devastating the community. Their deaths sparked candlelight vigils and led parents to start posting “You Matter” signs throughout the county as a message of hope for children and adolescents with depression, which has risen sharply across the country. America for the past two years.