At a fiery school board meeting this week, Litchfield school officials apologized for an online message of unity they say inadvertently included a series of attachments supporting critical race theory.
“We realized that we made an error. The error we made was that we had linked to a document of links,” Superintendent Mike Jette said Wednesday to the crowd that filled the small meeting room and spilled into the hallway.
On June 10, 2020, Jette released a message of unity on behalf of the school board, leadership team and administrators. The message to parents included a list of resources with links to anti-racism books for kids, essays, podcasts and more.
More than a year after the message was posted on the school district’s website, a parent told Jette that some of those resources contained offensive items, the superintendent said. Some residents who described themselves as outraged said there was a focus on White privilege and White supremacy.
Sueann Johnson of Litchfield said her daughter, a Campbell High School student, told her that teachers have discussed White privilege in the classroom.
“They are teaching (critical race theory) … it is somehow getting in there,” Johnson said.
Critical race theory (CRT) posits the idea that racism is not just the product of individual bias or prejudice but is embedded in legal and governmental systems and policies.
Johnson said she is opposed to teaching students that they are either a victim or privileged because of the color of their skin.
“It is not appropriate in school,” she said.
In a statement, Jette said the district does not teach CRT in the schools and has no intention of adding it to the curriculum.
“Please speak out and correct anyone who says otherwise,” Jette said.
School officials have scheduled a community forum to discuss the matter in depth with residents at 5 p.m. on July 28 at Campbell High School.
In the June 2020 message, Jette said the district denounces bigotry and hatred in all forms and reaffirms its commitment to diversity.
It went on to state that the district pledges to update its history curriculum and content, adjusting its practices as faculty and staff to better serve a diverse group of students, demonstrating equal opportunities when recruiting and hiring and committing to an environment that celebrates diversity, promotes inclusivity and challenges all of the community to strongly condemn acts of racism, hate and violence.
Jette said the attachment contained links to web pages outside the district’s control that later were updated to include material objectionable to some parents.
School board Chairman Christina Harrison also apologized Wednesday.
“It was our mistake, and since we learned this lesson, whenever we post anything intended for the audience of our staff, our students and our families, we vet the resources ourselves and create the document in-house so that we take ownership of it,” Harrison said.
According to state Rep. Mark McLean, R-Manchester, one link led to Robin DiAngelo’s book “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism,” which highlights the notion that Whites must face a racist bias they all carry.
The work, McLean said, is condescending to Whites and people of color, and its inclusion is inappropriate and out of step with a new state law that bans teaching on divisive racial concepts.
State Rep. Rich Lascelles, R-Litchfield, told the crowd the attitude of administrators seems to “encourage more liberal types of thought.”
“I am just incredibly disappointed and alarmed at the hyper-partisan atmosphere that I see in the schools,” Lascelles said.
Patrick Keefe, president of the Litchfield Education Association, said that in the 15 years he has taught in the district, he has never heard any teacher, administrator or school board member speak in support of teaching CRT in schools.
“CRT isn’t an issue in the district. It doesn’t exist as part of any curriculum in K-12, to the best of my knowledge,” Keefe said.
Parent Laura Gandia of Litchfield said American history should be taught with a fair and balanced approach that recognizes the context of the times and those individuals who fought to secure our freedoms and liberties.
“We do not tolerate racism or any message promoting or undermining any race or ethnicity,” Gandia said.
Jennifer Sullivan of Litchfield said she supports the message of unity and approaching education with a full view of history and discussions on both sides.
“I do believe that anti-fascism is appropriate to be in schools and to be taught, and that there is a lot of work to do,” Sullivan said.