One by one, their names were read as they walked to a podium in front of the seven members of the Elmbrook School Board.

More than 40 people, many of whom were parents of children who frequent the district, were in attendance to discuss how race is discussed in classrooms during a listening session hosted by the school board on May 25. .

Some denounced the school that taught critical race theory, even as council chairman Scott Wheeler started the session by stating that the district would not teach critical race theory.

“Our locally designed, board-approved curriculum will certainly cover difficult topics as we teach our students critical thinking skills,” Wheeler said. “Let me stress that we teach students how to think, not what to think, which is the role of education.”

Rather, council members were seeking feedback on the district’s proposed equity principles, which would be included in the district strategy map.

These principles were drafted by the District’s Non-Negotiable Equity Task Force, whose goal is to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in Elmbrook schools.

Nine former students from the Elmbrook School District petitioned the Elmbrook School Board in 2020, calling for curriculum changes to address racial issues.  Pictured: Archit Baskaran, Caitlin Behling, Joanna Geisler, Alisha Harper, Chisom Obasih, Morgan Orcholski, Ivan Ruvalcaba, Anisha Verma and Ankita Verma.

This group came after more than 1,400 district students and alumni signed a petition in June 2020 calling on the district for its “lack of response to current injustices affecting our community, as well as district curriculum practices that overlook issues. of racial justice. “

The Equity Principles say, “As a district committed to equity, we seek to close the gaps of opportunity based on student and family identity and their intersectionality, including race, color, creed, national origin, citizenship status, ancestry, religion, sexual and gender identity, economic, linguistic, age, and physical, mental, emotional and learning disability so that all students thrive. ”

The principles deal with removing barriers to teaching and learning. They relate to the recruitment and hiring of “a talented and diverse workforce”.

The principles state that 6% of all staff identify as a person of color,

which is 25% less than the student population.

Equity and inclusion

Those who spoke during the listening session expressed a range of views.

“Just because you’re not a racist doesn’t mean there’s no such thing as racism,” said a neighborhood mother of two. Bushara Z? (1:34)

“You would be living in a bubble if you think there is no bias in the way our history and current events are taught,” she added.

But some critics of critical race theory who spoke saw the principles of fairness and the work of the Non-Negotiable Fairness Task Force as an extension of Critical Race Theory.

“What we are talking about today is really critical racial theory, which is nothing more than Marxist political doctrine in disguise and has no place in our schools,” said a parent from four children who will be in the neighborhood.

The teaching of critical race theory has been a hotly debated topic in Wisconsin and across the country recently.

Critical race theory is, among other things, “the recognition that racism is a normal feature of society and is embedded in systems and institutions, like the legal system, which reproduce racial inequality,” according to an article. on the American Bar Association website. “This rejects the idea that racist incidents are aberrations, but rather manifestations of structural and systemic racism.”

In April, after previously banning the teaching of critical race theory in its schools, the Germantown School Board reversed the course and overturned the ban.

Critical race theorists argue that the law and legal institutions in the United States are inherently racist in that their function is to create and maintain social, economic and political inequalities between whites and non-whites. , especially African Americans, ”says a definition from Encyclopaedia Britannica. .

A mother at the Elmbrook hearing said she thought the proposed fairness principles were too controversial.

“I don’t think we need a huge policy that triggers this kind of controversy,” she said. “I think if we support great classroom teaching, which we always have, I think we can trust our teachers, and I just don’t think this policy is necessary.”

Another mother of two from the district said, “I want the students in our district to learn all of the stories that make up our American history and that have shaped the world today. I want them to learn good and bad. One of the best things about educating the public is learning from people who aren’t really like you.

A district alumnus pleaded with council to adopt the principles of fairness as written. She said she had been discriminated against in the district because of her race.

“It would help not only us black and brown students and students of color, but in all areas, everyone,” she said.

“ We don’t teach critical race theory ”

A petition titled “Education over Activism” had over 1,000 signatures as of the morning of June 1.

This petition states that “Elmbrook continues to teach the program with built-in CRT without parental consent.”

One man said he believed critical race theory was based on “division and ignorance.”

“I would prefer my daughter’s time in school to be spent learning math, science, critical thinking and problem solving that are needed in the real world,” he said. during the listening session.

Chris Thompson, the district’s director of strategy, responded to the claim that critical breed theory is taught in schools in Elmbrook in a May 28 email.

“We don’t teach our students critical race theory or train our staff on its principles,” Thompson wrote. “The Equity Principles are not a curriculum or a program, but rather serve as benchmarks designed to inform our work as we strive to realize our district’s vision of preparing every student for success in college,” to career and life. “

Brookfield Ald. Mike Hallquist also spoke at the listening session as a parent of two children in the district.

“I encourage the board to be fully committed to the principles of fairness and to continue to find new ways to fill our gaps. I have no doubts you can do it, ”Hallquist said.

The board is expected to meet on June 8 to vote on the proposed fairness principles.

Evan Casey can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on twitter @ecaseymedia.

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