BY FREDA MIKLIN
The final Cherry Creek School District (CCSD) Board of Education meeting of the 2020-2021 school year began at 7:00 p.m. on June 23 and ended at 1:20 a.m. on June 24. It drew hundreds of community members, some of whom were seated in an adjacent overflow room. It also drew about a dozen men who just stood around near the entrance of the building dressed in military-style garb. They did not engage with the people who came to the meeting.
Almost four hours of the board meeting was spent receiving public comments from community members, each of whom were strictly limited to three minutes. The Villager was there for the first three hours of the meeting and has listened to and reviewed the testimony of the first 30 speakers. Of that group, five voiced objections to what they believed were the plans and policies of the school district in revising its social studies curriculum to include contributions to our history of Americans who were descended from African American, Latino, American Indian, or Asian cultures, along with members of the LGBTQ community (the groups named in the law passed by the general assembly in 2019). Several speakers conflated the district’s plans with critical race theory (CRT). The remaining 25 speakers voiced their support of the district’s announced plans in revising its social studies curriculum to include the contributions of Americans in those groups.
Schumé Navarro, a CCSD parent who told The Villager that she is also the secretary of the Arapahoe County Republican Party, was first to speak, and said, in part, “To be controlled by the teachers’ union or the political parties that be and allow our children to be abused in your care is a terrible thing to aligning children to ideals that teach them that they are either oppressed or oppressors.”
Shelley Stancer, who has been teaching social studies in CCSD for 15 years, observed that, “Seventh-grade social studies covers civilizations of the eastern hemisphere, Africa, Asia, and Europe. For many years, the only civilization we talked about in Africa, the second biggest continent by size and population, was ancient Egypt. That clearly does not give a full history of Africa. How are we educating kids if we don’t also look at the many great civilizations from Sub-Saharan Africa, those created by black people before slavery and colonialism, and what happened to them, and how Africa got to where it is today?” She continued, “During last month’s board meeting, I was struck by a parent’s concern that this bill (HB19-1192) could leave out important history if kids are learning about other cultures, but these aren’t other cultures, they are our cultures—the cultures and histories of the students sitting in my classroom…”
Brian McKinney, a black father of two CCSD students, questioned why discussions about race were being termed divisive, saying, in part, “Do we think it’s divisive to our indigenous folks to teach curriculum that says that Europeans discovered this land? Do we think it’s divisive to minimize the impacts of slavery, the cruelty of slavery?” He added, “CRT is not being taught in this district, it’s not even being taught in this country to K-12. They know it’s not being taught. The only reason they are talking about CRT is to stop all equity work in this district…Let’s talk about race…Let’s talk about how only 19 percent of black eighth graders are proficient in math. We’re dedicated to excellence? Whose excellence are we dedicated to?”
A person who said she has taught English for 22 years in CCSD said was “compelled by her faith” to speak up. “When I began my culturally responsive instruction training, I embraced examining my racial identity and understanding how my identity impacted my teaching…I soon realized that my way of teaching didn’t recognize the diverse backgrounds of all the students sitting in my classroom…because kids connect to the curriculum when they see their story within it. They find relevance in learning. Culturally responsive instruction makes me address how the units I prepare will honor the multiple perspectives in my classroom,” she said.
A parent pointed out, “It can be hard to talk about (some) facts. Jim Crow is a fact. Segregation is a fact. Housing discrimination, the treaties the United States broke with indigenous nations are facts…These are critically important facts that shape and influence what is happening in our country right now. As a white man, it can be hard to talk about these facts…I’d much rather talk about America saving the day in World War II. I want my kids to think critically about American society so they need to know these facts. Teaching children about the history of redlining that happened right here in our state is not anti-white just like teaching kids about Hitler is not anti-German. It’s just reality and this country desperately needs to have a better shared understanding of reality.”
Bill Vander Lugt, a CCSD parent who holds a Ph.D. from Indiana University, a law degree from the University of Chicago Law School, and has clerked for a federal judge, talked about CRT. He told the board that after hearing what parents at a previous CCSD board meeting said about CRT, he researched the topic and found that “the phrase CRT is being carelessly tossed around as a bogeyman, even by the best- informed conservative writers that I could find, but more often by pundits who have never bothered to read a single word. Given the embarrassingly lack of rigor in their critiques, it seems clear that the phrase is being deployed largely as a weapon to shut down any kind of serious, informed conversation about race, especially in our public schools. If our children are to succeed as workers in a complex globalized economy and as citizens in a complex, multi-racial democracy, they will need to show much more curiosity, much more intellectual rigor, and much more critical thinking to admittedly hard conversations about race.”
Ashley Andrews saw things differently. Politely and respectively, she said, in part, that, “CRT and the 1619 Project are politically motivated programs and designed to cancel American history and democracy itself. We are fearfully and wonderfully made by our Creator and our nation is based on the understanding that all men are created equal. I implore you not to implement any of these programs and to do so as the other districts have done around them and throw them out…”
Well-known parent leader Colleen Chan, who studied at Columbia University and holds two masters’ degrees in education, addressed the question of, “what culturally responsive education is and what it is not.” She explained, “It is an attempt to course correct, to include the history and story of all Americans and not just some Americans. It aims to bring awareness outside of ourselves, outside of our own bubble…to critically analyze and reflect upon the complete history of our nation so we can heal the divisiveness and injustices that are tearing us apart…It is a vision of America truly united…That is multicultural education…Multicultural education is not CRT. CRT is an esoteric topic studied in grad school…CRT will not be taught in schools…and the people who want to insinuate that the two are synonymous, they’re gravely mistaken, or they’re purposely twisting the term to incite fear, anxiety and anger in order to attain their own personal agendas…I was shocked when I walked in today and there were militia…standing outside.”