Parents debate instructional methods on race, racism

Many object to approach, some show support

Phil Keren
Kent Weeklies
About 45 people attended the Hudson Board of Education meeting on Monday, May 24. A little more than two-thirds of the about 20 people who spoke said they objected to the manner in which race and racism was being explained to the students.

HUDSON — How should students be taught about race and racism?

That question was at the heart of a discussion about the district's  Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative that occurred Monday at the board of education meeting.

Superintendent Phil Herman has provided updates on the schools' DEI efforts throughout the year and did so again on Monday, but the board did not have an action item on the agenda regarding DEI.

More than two-thirds of the approximately 20 people who addressed the board of education said they objected to the manner in which concepts about race and racism were being presented to students. 

Some parents contended that components of critical race theory (CRT) were being taught to their children and objected to those ideas being presented to students. Herman said CRT is not part of the district's curriculum nor had it been recommended through either DEI efforts or by the district's cultural proficiency advisory committee. He clarified that CRT is "not the same thing as Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts."

Hudson City School District Superintendent Phil Herman speaks during a recent board of education meeting. The district announced this week it had disciplined some high school students who made "racial and homophobic hate statements" in a phone app video game.

A recent article in EducationWeek stated the primary idea of CRT is "that racism is a social construct, and that it is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies."

An article published earlier this year by the American Bar Association stated CRT "rejects claims of meritocracy or “colorblindness," and instead "recognizes that it is the systemic nature of racism that bears primary responsibility for reproducing racial inequality."

Some speakers at Monday's meeting said they felt the instructional approaches regarding race being used in the district were “poisoning” their children’s minds and that young people were being "indoctrinated." Several parents who voiced their objections were applauded by many audience members.

Parents shared examples of concepts that they say their children learned which concerned them. One mother said she heard her child's teacher tell the students in a Zoom class that they had white privilege. A father said his child missed a day of school for health reasons and was told by a teacher that his child needed diversity training because he was a white male. A mother said she felt her daughter was being taught she had to "apologize for being born white." 

Hudson resident Mark Justice addresses the board of education meeting on Monday, May 24. Justice and many other parents shared concerns about how students were being taught about race and racism. Some parents expressed support for the district's approach.

Mark Justice said he believed the district’s DEI efforts are “merely a rebranding of CRT.” 

He noted that, after his daughter read a book about race In school, she “saw skin color when she had never recognized it before.”

Robin Meeker echoed a similar sentiment.

“My child doesn’t see race,” Meeker said. “… Now my child is noticing skin color. I feel the school is creating racism in our children.” 

Justice added he felt the teachings emphasized differences between people rather than similarities.  

“DEI or CRT or whatever you want to call it, is nothing less than a subtle reinstitution of segregation into our schools,” Justice said. 

Hudson resident Ryan Regan was one of many parents who shared concerns with the board of education about how issues of race and racism were being taught to students.

Ryan Regan noted he was concerned that every class was examining the world through "the prism of group identity."

"Teaching kids to look at everything through the lens of race, religion, gender identity is the exact opposite message I want my kids to have," Regan said. "I want my children to judge others based upon the other's actions, their deeds, their intentions."

Responding to Herman's statement that CRT is not part of the curriculum, Brian Meeker encouraged the board to pass a resolution banning the instruction of CRT in the district. 

Hudson resident Dexter James was one of the parents who spoke Monday at the board of education meeting in favor of the race and racism discussions that are occurring with students.

Nearly one-third of the speakers applauded the DEI efforts. They felt it was important for children to learn about concepts such as systemic racism and implicit bias and that going through this process would prepare them to be productive members of society. They also wanted students to fully understand historical issues of race and racism in this country.

As a parent of a biracial child, Lisa Radigan said she favored the instruction and stated, “We cannot simply say 'I don’t see color' and expect that that be the end of the conversation. We must work to ensure the differences are acknowledged, respected and honored. Sometimes that means we must have difficult conversations with ourselves.” 

Dr. Patricia Goetz, who said she is a child and adolescent psychiatrist and is the grandmother of a biracial child, said children typically become "set in their beliefs about race" by age 12. That's why, Goetz said, it's "very important" for parents and educators to start discussing race with children at an early age.

Dexter James said he believed "diversity, equity and inclusion brings out the best in us, not the worst."

There was moments of tension during the meeting. A couple speakers criticized a community member and district staffer by name, which prompted board member James Field to tell the audience to refrain from personal attacks. On a couple of occasions, audience members attempted to speak out of turn and board president David Zuro had to restore order.

Herman said goal of the DEI work is to make all students feel valued, welcomed and loved, and is geared toward preparing them for the world they will live in as adults. 

"It is a journey toward cultural proficiency and what I mean by that is knowing how to learn from and about one another, and how to appreciate and interact with those who are dissimilar to ourselves," Herman said.

Based on the feedback at the meeting, Herman added he felt he and his team "could do a better job" of informing parents about what is happening in the classrooms.

Several parents also voiced objections during the board meeting on May 10.

CRT also discussed in Stow

CRT was also discussed in a neighboring community on the same evening.

During a Stow-Munroe Falls school board meeting on Monday, Iisha Collier, chair of the Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee, provided an update on the group’s progress this year, and noted that some community members have expressed concerns about critical race theory. 

“In our DEI work we have no plans on introducing CRT to students or align curriculum to CRT,” said Collier who also serves as the district’s K-6 curriculum supervisor. “We use ODE [Ohio Department of Education] standards when aligning our curriculum. We are educators in classrooms and not advocates for specific concepts.”

Still, board member Gerry Bettio responded that critical race theory concerns her, even if it is not coming to Stow-Munroe Falls.

“Others are adopting it and I’m afraid. I don’t want it happening here,” she said. 

Editor's note: Reporter Krista Kano contributed to this story.

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at pkeren@thebeaconjournal.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.