Critical Race Theory Debate, Project 1619 Reaches Souderton

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Problematic conversations

Richard Detwiler, a retired teacher, did not speak at the board meeting but said he was concerned about the area he sent his now adult children to school. He said the group of parents opposed to teaching race and racism in schools have clung to words and phrases like Critical Race Theory as “a source of division and negativity.”

“I’m really kind of surprised and shocked by the very loud voices, both nationally and locally here in the community, who have a problem with these conversations and want to call them un-American and unpatriotic,” Detwiler said. .

He went to the board meeting in person to observe the back and forth, but Detwiler said it was far from new.

Shortly after the police assassination of George Floyd last June in Minneapolis, the Souderton area, like many other places, looked itself in the mirror to do its math. A local activist from the Black and Brown Lives Movement in Montgomery County organized a “well-attended” march.

And while many were happy with the status quo, some in the community were not and urged the school district to address equity concerns. Shortly after the call from community members, Superintendent Frank Gallagher wrote a letter regarding equity in the Souderton area school district.

“We unequivocally condemn acts of racial violence and any intolerant rhetoric that seeks to divide us. At SASD, we are actively working to build an inclusive school community that values ​​diversity, and we stand united against hatred in all its forms, ”Gallagher wrote.

In the letter, Gallagher announced the creation of an equity committee “to examine these issues and develop a comprehensive action plan with input from stakeholders in our community.”

A year later, the parents concerned are still waiting to hear the committee’s conclusions. And since last June, community relations have become more hostile. The school board has banned Carmina Taylor, co-founder of the Movement for Black and Brown Lives in Montgomery County, from speaking at their meetings. They say it’s because she doesn’t live in the neighborhood.

According to Detwiler, the committee was supposed to engage in the so-called “fairness audit” this summer – which raised the alarm among conservative parents already magnified by the upcoming school board election.

“We can’t really know how our schools, for example, are the safe and welcoming places that we would like and think they are, without doing the kind of fairness audit that has been done. been proposed and ostensibly expected. to start this summer, ”Detwiler said.

About 80% of the approximately 6,500 students in the Souderton area school district are white.

A group of parents formed a Facebook group called Soudy Strong Conservatives in late March. WHYY News requested access to the group to speak with some of its approximately 450 members, but was not allowed entry. However, this statement appears on the group’s “about” page.

“This group is for conservatives in the Souderton Area School District who stand with the Souderton School Board to preserve the traditional educational model that uplifts proud Americans. We support full-time in-person education and oppose radical ideologies such as Project 1619, Critical Race Theory, and Comprehensive Sexuality Education. Let kids be kids and academics be academics… and leave politics and gender studies to college levels.

# andYES also wear out to UNMASK our children! “

WHYY News was able to get in touch with Dana Vesey, a Souderton parent with two college kids. She is one of the three directors of the Soudy Strong Conservatives Facebook group.

She called the last year at Souderton and the buzz around the school board an example of politicization. She said organizing through school boards is just the accessible way to address concerns that are “most important overall with the movement of the country.”

Vesey said she couldn’t speak for the conservative Soudy Strong group, as he was trained by Kaitlin Derstine, a parent actively involved with the Parents For In Person Education group in Montgomery County.

But Vesey offered his take on the critical debate on racial theory.

“I don’t believe in these mass teachings on things like critical race theory, or anything that will lead to critical race theory. I am not convinced that they are a proven positive solution, ”said Vesey.

Dru Shelly, a relative from Harleysville, said she was shocked to see such a group formed. She sees many members at church, softball and other community events.

“It breaks my heart that they are so afraid for their children that they can’t open up to a different perspective,” Shelly said.

She attributed these strong opinions to a lack of factual information. While Shelly holds opposing parents accountable for their own views, she has further pointed the finger at the school board, which she says has not been able to remain impartial.

“The board has their own ideas which they discuss among themselves, and their supporters are quite loud and their supporters are invited to come to the meeting and say whatever they want on camera, including giving advice. on who to vote for in the next election, ”Shelly said.

Motivated to shut down the conservative parent group, other parents started a Facebook group called SASD Parents for Unity in May. The group has assembled more than 100 members, although they are largely outnumbered by the opposing faction.

Parent Stephanie Jamison, a founding member of the group, says the situation in the school district is worrying.

“As I engage and organize in this community, I have received countless phone calls from families telling me about their first-hand experiences with school districts and in our schools and their heartbreaking stories. And people are afraid of bullying, they are afraid of violence for speaking out, ”Jamison said.

She pointed to a well-documented growing success and disciplinary gap at Souderton as the reason why a fairness audit is needed.

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