Some Greencastle-Antrim parents say Critical Race Theory doesn't belong in schools

Shawn Hardy
Echo Pilot

Critical race theory is an issue receiving more and more attention across the country, and some parents want to make sure it is not taught in Greencastle-Antrim schools.

Speakers during the public comment period of the July 22 school board meeting laid out their thoughts on critical race theory. In a later email interview, Dr. Lura Hanks, superintendent, explained the district's position.

Parents spoke against the teaching of Critical Race Theory at the July 22 meeting of the Greencastle-Antrim School Board.

"We have not engaged in any efforts to incorporate CRT as we have much to learn before we would ever consider addressing such controversial material," Hanks wrote.

"With the growing concerns locally, we do not want to ignore the issue. Some of the words being associated with CRT have multiple meanings and there are so many misconceptions that confuse Critical Race Theory with efforts to make schools a safe place to learn for all children. I believe it is our collective responsibility to navigate these rising concerns together."

What is critical race theory?

Google "critical race theory" and far-ranging information comes up. It is being protested at schools nationwide, and some states are considering banning its teaching, but it is hard to pin down a definition.

Former President Donald Trump wrote about it in a June 18 op-ed on the website "For decades, the America-blaming left has been relentlessly pushing a vision of America that casts our history, culture, traditions, and founding documents in the most negative possible light. Yet, in recent years, this deeply unnatural effort has progressed from telling children that their history is evil to telling Americans that they are evil.

"In classrooms across the nation, students are being subjected to a new curriculum designed to brainwash them with the ridiculous left-wing dogma known as 'critical race theory.' The key fact about this twisted doctrine is that it is completely antithetical to everything that normal Americans of any color would wish to teach their children," Trump wrote.

People protest critical race theory in Leesburg, Va., on June 12.

The Education Week website says, "Critical race theory is an academic concept that is more than 40 years old. The core idea is that race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.

"The basic tenets of critical race theory, or CRT, emerged out of a framework for legal analysis in the late 1970s and early 1980s created by legal scholars Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and Richard Delgado, among others.

"A good example is when, in the 1930s, government officials literally drew lines around areas deemed poor financial risks, often explicitly due to the racial composition of inhabitants. Banks subsequently refused to offer mortgages to Black people in those areas."

Closer to home, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association recently sent out an information sheet for "use by districts as they navigate this often confusing and controversial topic."

It says, "Regrettably, concerns about Critical Race Theory have been misdirected at something very different — the equity-focused initiatives school boards are undertaking to ensure that all children of the community have access to a high-quality education and opportunities for success."

The association says there is confusion between critical race theory and culturally responsive teaching and leadership practices and offers this information:

"Critical Race Theory is just that – a theory. Critical Race Theory is a framework for examining the effects of race and racism in society. Being a theory, it has been discussed in graduate-level higher education and legal circles since the 1970s, not as curriculum, but as a point of discussion and analysis. Though originally focused on race, it has expanded to include the intersectional examination of the effects of other types of discrimination, such as those centered around gender, ethnicity, class and disability in society.

"Critical Race Theory should not be confused with Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leadership practices. Through these practices, teachers and school leaders affirm and incorporate inclusively the diverse cultural references, identities, voices, experiences and histories of all students and their families."

Asked after the G-A School Board meeting for a definition of critical race theory, parents pointed to Michele Jansen. Jansen, who lives in the Chambersburg Area School District, is a medical doctor with background in clinical research and local news talk radio. A political analyst with a special interest in CRT, she said she is applying her research skills to understanding it from the perspective of both its proponents and critics and its impact on current issues.

"It's an ideological way of interpreting the world that believes all institutions, systems, history, knowledge and even truth itself are substantially defined and effected by the majority in power who frames all of these in the way that privileges and empowers them the most, consciously or unconsciously," according to Jansen.

"Therefore, when it comes to education, CRT demands that teachers examine themselves for inherent biases, engage in culturally sensitive teaching towards minority groups, create a democratic classroom where they develop in students a critical conscious according to the CRT ideological beliefs so that they can transform the society to bring equitable outcomes for all."

Jansen said she calls CRT "critical social justice," and some call it "woke."

She said she and many others are concerned that it "doesn't belong in public schools because it is truly an ideological way of interpreting the world, more akin to something like Christianity or secular liberal humanism, which is something most parents say they would rather impart to their child and have control over."

Parents speak out

"Over the course of the month, multiple parents have continued to express their concerns for the induction of the Critical Race Theory into the Greencastle-Antrim School District," Craig Ingram, who has two children in the district, said during the public comment period. "We do not accept this theory even in its most modest form and do not wish for our children to be exposed to the conditioning presented in such material.

"We request transparency to the control parameters established by the school district to ensure that teachers are not independently developing and/or adopting their own protocols for unapproved materials in the students' lessons," Ingram said.

"While we support the creative wisdom of teachers and their ability to structure their class, we want to ensure there are safeguards to protect against those with destructive visions."

Educators, parents and other members of the public attended the July 22 meeting of the Greencastle-Antrim School Board, where some parents spoke against the teaching of Critical Race Theory.

"One good thing to come out of the post-COVID era is the awakening of parents and communities across the nation," Becky Grosskreutz said. "Boards and local politics were often overlooked. It was easy to send kids to school and not get involved beyond classroom issues, but that is no longer the case. There is too much at stake and parents are now paying attention and getting involved.

"This is a great thing. We can't sit back and think, 'Oh, that won't come to our small town, because that line of thinking is just unrealistic,' especially since so many national publications and materials, distributed to and used by schools, come from very liberal leaning ideology."

Grosskreutz taught in Washington County, Md., public schools for 17 years before having twins, who are now G-A eighth-graders.

Grosskreutz said she and other parents have incredible respect for the teaching profession, love their community and think "Greencastle has a lot of good things, but also many areas for improvement."

Her list of statements included:

  • "We will not be silent when we are concerned or made to feel 'wrong' or 'difficult' if we question and express these concerns."
  • "We expect clear, consistent, transparent communication on all issues."
  • "We expect board members to represent the people who elected them."
  • "We will not allow our children to be taught to see the world through certain ideologies, lenses or belief systems. That is our job as parents."

"We have been assured by Lura Hanks that CRT will not be introduced into the Greencastle-Antrim schools, but remain skeptical of the conditions of the statement," said Ingram, who along with other speakers mentioned that the board is elected by the voters, and the superintendent is appointed by the board.

"There have been close ties between Lura and two separate published authors that have included CRT concepts in their books," Ingram said.

He noted that one of them, Dr. Jay McTighe, has been contracted by the district for teacher training programs.

In the district

McTighe is involved as a consultant with the development and implementation of the district's recently adopted five competencies. After the meeting, Hanks said, "Jay McTighe doesn't teach CRT at all."

Five core competencies: Greencastle-Antrim School District Destination Design team creates 'Portrait of a Graduate'

2021-22 school year: G-A School Board goes with competency-based calendar instead of traditional schedule

A committee of 60 parents, grandparents, alumni, faculty, staff, administration, business owners, taxpayers and board members started working to create the district's "Portrait of a Graduate" in fall 2020 and the five core competencies to support it were adopted in February. They are critical thinking and social responsibility; creativity and innovation; literacy and communication; physical and emotional health; and general knowledge and academic preparation.

Dr. Lura Hanks

"During this past year, GASD committed to in-person learning," Hanks wrote in an email. "We began in the fall to define our 'Portrait of a Graduate.' In the midst of the pandemic, we kept our focus on our destination. Perhaps our hyper-focus made the rising concerns for CRT more of a surprise when it became a local issue. We remain committed to aligning all of our work to our five competencies."

The district has targeted curriculum, instruction and literacy as the focus for student achievement and development of the core competencies, with teacher collaboration as a key component.

"With increased opportunities for teacher collaborative planning, doors open to more powerful instruction that increases the collective expertise and support of a team, rather than individual teachers planning in isolation," Hanks wrote.

"The power of collaboration is evidence-based, and our plan moving forward is informed by years of research. The more teams work together, the easier it is to focus on what is most important in the learning."

Hanks agreed CRT has become a hot topic in education.

"I believe that it took many educators by surprise as we work to navigate the complexities of a theory that lived in graduate level law courses," she wrote. "The political environment of our country coupled with a pandemic that wreaked havoc on education created fertile soil for such a controversy.

"In light of the concern for CRT, I believe it would be in the best interest of our staff and community to generate some helpful guidelines moving forward," Hanks wrote.