ROYERSFORD – For Elizabeth Brody, 26, attending schools in the Spring-Ford School District was the perfect environment and a critical ingredient to her success.
“The environment that was taught to me at Spring-Ford made me feel like it was made for me and that I was taught without limits,” the former student told the school board during the May 24 meeting.
Sadly, “that can’t be said for all of my classmates,” Brody told the board.
“Over the past few months, I have had the opportunity to connect with a few of my classmates of color. And I have to say their experiences here in the neighborhood weren’t as optimistic as mine, ”she said. “They don’t look back on their time here with the same level of joy and nostalgia as I do.”
Further, said Brody, “when I hear stories from other color students, who have attended Spring-Ford more recently, it is disheartening to say that not much has changed since I left.”
But Spring-Ford wants to change that. This is why the district formed an equity, inclusion and diversity committee two years ago.
“Spring-Ford is in the process of better understanding what the terms equity, diversity and inclusion mean and how to support children. All the kids, ”Superintendent Robert Rizzo told council the same night Brody made his remarks.
“While difficult conversations may be in our future, working together as an entire school community to foster safe spaces, unity and respect and celebration of differences will most benefit each of our students so that they are better supported too, as our mission statement illustrates. , be fully prepared to make a positive contribution to their society. We look forward to the work, ”said Rizzo.
To guide this work and help with some of these “difficult conversations,” the school board on Monday, May 24, hired Carlos Wiley, director of the Paul Robeson Center at Penn State University.
The Paul Robeson Cultural Center describes itself as “a place of support, education and advocacy for students victimized by social injustice. Our goal is to engage and educate students on cultural skills, including diversity, leadership, racial identity development and community. development. “
According to the evening’s agenda, Wiley’s charge is “to provide advisory services to the district with respect to Spring-Ford’s equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives, including professional development for include district teams in the creation and implementation of an inclusive excellence plan for the District during the 2021-2022 school year. “
Wiley’s hiring, however, has already sparked concern from a district resident who expressed fear during the meeting’s public comment period.
“I speak against Carlos Wiley who is the man who is going to direct and develop the curriculum of our schools while he is a person who is for critical race theory,” said resident Tina Murray.
“You can see what he says on Facebook. He says, ‘This is for all white people who need a visual aid to understand why you are complacent about racism,” Murray said. I’m very worried that our school, Spring-Ford, the greatest school ever, would start doing critical race theory. “
School board member Thomas DiBello responded: “I think we need to be clear. He’s not coming to develop a program. He’s coming to help the diversity committee, EDI, build a model related to diversity, l ‘inclusion and equity. They are not. do curriculum development at this stage. “
More than 40 years old, “Critical Race Theory” has recently become a focal point of political debate, especially with regard to schools and education.
According to a May 18 Education Week article, “the central idea is that racism is a social construct, and that it is not just the product of prejudice or individual prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies ”.
In the Education Week article, author Stephen Sawchuk wrote: “A good example is when, in the 1930s, government officials literally drew lines around areas considered low risk. financial, often explicitly because of the racial makeup of the inhabitants. Banks subsequently refused to offer mortgages to blacks in these areas. Today, these same patterns of discrimination are perpetuated through seemingly race-blind policies, such as single-family zoning which prevents the construction of affordable housing in favored white-majority neighborhoods and, therefore, thwarts efforts at racial desegregation. . . “
“Critics claim that the theory leads to negative dynamics, such as a focus on group identity rather than universal and shared traits; divides people into “oppressed” and “oppressor” groups and urges intolerance, ”Sawchuk wrote.
Rizzo told the board that Wiley “had been reviewed by our equity, inclusion and diversity committee, where there was a process for submitting nominations, credentials were reviewed, as well as interviews held. And Carlos Wiley has come forward as the main recommendation of this team, and at this point he’s going to be working with us on equity, diversity and inclusion, nothing specifically related to critical race theory. We’re just talking about how we can start moving forward with our district in these three areas. “
The committee is already discussing a controversial complaint filed at the May 10 school board meeting.
It was then that resident Anthony Frigo told council, “Apparently there are BLM stickers in the school at the grade 7 center. I have no comment on BLM, but I don’t think it’s appropriate that such things are in school. I think this is unconstitutional, violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments and I was wondering what the school would do about it. “
Frigo added, “This is a sticker on a classroom door and I also believe there is not a sticker on the Constitution next to it, nor on the Declaration of Independence, which is it. that the school should teach. “
Board member Clinton Jackson said he agreed the sticker did not belong to the school.
“I don’t disagree with what you’re saying. There shouldn’t be more than a Confederate flag sticker or anything. It shouldn’t be in the school district so I support your position. asking that it be removed. “
Resident Abby Deardorff, who is also a candidate for the school board, is not so sure.
“Since there have been several administrative updates regarding diversity, equity and inclusion, I was wondering if any comments could be provided to the community on why a Black Lives Matter sticker is inappropriate, or if that’s how the district feels, ”she said in May. 10 meeting.
“In the past, there were other stickers, as Mr. Jackson mentioned, like a Confederate flag, that were removed. If you allow one, you have to allow all of them,” DiBello said.
“The Supreme Court cases have ruled on the First Amendment in public schools, no school official can censor students’ speech unless it disrupts the education system, which is not the case currently, ”said Eshika Seth, student council representative.
“What is taught in the classrooms is based on the curriculum, but things just can’t show up in the hallways,” DiBello continued. “You can’t pick the flavor of the month and say this one is allowed, but I don’t like that one so it has to go down.”
That’s when district attorney Mark Fitzgerald entered the discussion.
“I ask that the nine of you remain neutral on this and we will review the information and see what it suggests and certainly if an update is warranted it will be provided,” Fitzgerald said, ending the discussion of May 10.
Two weeks later, Deardorff returned to the May 24 meeting to request this update.
Rizzo replied that it was with the Equity Diversity and Inclusion committee and “we are fleshing this out right now. We are continuing to discuss this.”
Brody told the board that “When I heard some of the comments from the May 10 board meeting, I was disappointed to say the least. Comments from board members regarding the Blacks Lives stickers Matter found in the school were disheartening and triggers for many students and community members. “
Jackson said: “I was the board member who made the comment. It was taken out of context completely and maybe I should have given it more context,” adding “it wasn’t a comparison or a parallel. “
Brody told the board, “In my experience you are here and you have the opportunity to prevent students of the past, present and future from living and contributing to systems of oppression. They exist, as the school board chooses whether or not to recognize them. “
She added: “I definitely see the Diversity and Inclusion Committee as a good effort to move forward and hope to see some positive effects. I have a lot of alumni that I have. talked about and I’m sure many current students who are more than willing to tell you about their experiences at Spring-Ford and the changes they would like to see. “