- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 12, 2021

Rhode Island school officials threatened to sue Nicole Solas when she asked for information about a critical race theory curriculum in the kindergarten her child was about to attend.

In Wellesley, Massachusetts, students were told there would be “no tolerance” for sharing information with outsiders when Young Ethnic Scholars gave a presentation to the entire high school in April.

These are just two examples of what parents in several states say are attempts to inject critical race theory into public school systems on the sly. Knowing they would meet with considerable parental opposition, school officials stonewall requests for information or try to throw financial and legal obstacles in the way, opponents say.

“They have been somewhat upfront about the activist education they are trying to impose,” said Anne Manusky, a parent who pulled her children out of Connecticut’s Easton-Redding-Region 9 (ER9) School Districts and is fighting the administration and elected education officials on critical race theory matters. 

“But we only catch word if we’re watching on Zoom or if our kids give us a heads-up,” Ms. Manusky said. “They weren’t forthcoming when parents asked about it.”

Parents Defending Education, a group launched this year to combat what it considers the pernicious rise of critical race theory in K-12 public schools, said it had received complaints about haughty or secretive school boards and administrators in more than four states.

“It is so common, I think it’s certainly the default setting at this point,” said Nicole Neily, president of the parents organization. “Even extremely savvy parents who know what is going on and ask pointed questions are told, ‘We’re not doing that; we’re doing something else,’ which is the exact same programming of defining students by their race, pitting them against each other, etc.”

The group, which critical race theory proponents say is a right-wing outfit trying to derail legitimate “anti-racist” educational programs, has documented other instances in Missouri, California and other states where administrators have either stonewalled parents seeking information or told their faculty to pull lesson plans “so parents cannot see it.”

Much of the pushback is coming from small groups of parents or activists who oppose the rapid expansion of “diversity, equity and inclusion” programs, officials said. Most of the decisions have been made under rules and regulations governing public meetings and public records, they said.

In addition, onerous public records requests and privacy laws require them to charge high fees to review all emails and documents requested.

Some administrators say parents have had plenty of public notice, with public school board hearings devoted to anti-racism issues over the past year.

“There have sometimes been extremely broad requests with thousands of emails,” said Clarence Zachery, the ER9 director of finance and operations. “All of our meetings have been held with public notice, and some of these things we have talked about for more than a year. If parents say they didn’t know, we can’t help that, but it certainly hasn’t been because of lack of notice.”

Several parents in four states who spoke with The Washington Times did not want to be identified. The local atmosphere has become so hostile, they said, that they fear personal attacks if they publicly question some of the activities and materials in their children’s schools.

In many cases, they described patterns of apparent indifference or hostility in response to public records requests and questions.

Ms. Solas, who was about to enroll her child in kindergarten in South Kingstown, Rhode Island, had her issue publicly broadcast since she first asked school officials why they weren’t using the words “girl” and “boy.” Frustrated with what she considered a lack of candor in response to that and other questions, she filed a lengthy public records request.

“The school was not transparent when I asked how CRT and gender theory are taught,” she said. Ms. Solas said she asked whether children had access to transgender storybooks, whether any classes were racially segregated and whether students were being race-shamed and learning in an environment where diverse viewpoints were encouraged.

The school board responded to Ms. Solas by threatening to sue her. At a contentious four-hour public hearing on June 2, the board backed down from its threat, but only after Ms. Solas was subjected to what she labeled “a show trial” with people hectoring her as a racist during a public comment period.

Officials described Ms. Solas’ records request as “a clear attempt to wreak havoc” and “a clear attempt to harm [the] district.” They accused her of working with Parents Defending Education, which they described as a racist group trying “to spread chaos and confusion.”

She is still awaiting answers to her questions.

“They allowed community members to speak directly against me in the public comment session, and I had no opportunity to confront the vitriol of these witnesses against me,” Ms. Solas told The Washington Times. “The school committee allowed a young woman whom I’ve never met to turn directly to me and call me racist simply because I submitted public record requests about CRT and gender theory in school. This set the tone for the remainder of my show trial, where at least two hours of time was devoted to community members expressing either their approval or disapproval of my requests for public information along with their own suspicions of my motivations and intent.”

In Wellesley, Massachusetts, where tensions have simmered over the public schools’ diversity, equity and inclusion plans, parents learned after the fact about required attendance at an April presentation by a group called Young Ethnic Scholars. The presentation was replete with accusations of “decades of students of color, especially Black students, experiencing systemic and individualized racism in Wellesley.”  

At the outset, all participants were told that the material, much of it attacking police and defending protests last year after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, was “to be seen only by the [Wellesley Public Schools] community. There is no tolerance for sharing this work.”

Jacqueline Maxwell, the public schools’ contact listed for Young Ethnic Scholars, did not respond to questions about the “no tolerance” policy and a request for examples of the racism that the group said has been rampant for years in Wellesley schools.

On May 4, Easton voters rejected a referendum by a 2-1 margin that would have declared racism “a public health crisis.”

Still, ER9 officials have gone forward with a survey crafted by its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. The survey will be sent to all high school and middle school students. Hundreds of parents and students objected to the survey, which they say will be of limited value because it is anonymous and voluntary.

The survey asks an extensive series of personal questions, including whether students identify as “cis,” “trans,” “genderqueer” or other options. It also asks them to disclose whether they feel the school provides a comfortable environment that pays sufficient attention to racial and sexual issues.  

Dana Benson, a taxpayer who spoke against the survey at the board’s marathon Zoom meeting on May 25, said supporters of critical race theory who are pushing the survey as part of their agenda tried to conduct it in a shroud of secrecy.

“Our concerns were ignored until we went public and informed the public of what you were doing,” Mr. Benson said.

These examples from New England and other states indicate a pattern and reflect an understanding that the concepts introduced in many diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives are not well-researched educational tools but political indoctrination, Ms. Neily and others said.

“It seems to be a combination of term-shifting, as I think ‘critical race theory’ has become an increasingly toxic phrase, like ‘judicial activism’ or ‘eminent domain’ have over the years, bad-faith gaslighting: If we tell parents that we’re not doing this, they’ll go away, and in some rare instances, ignorance because some officials really don’t think their equity work falls under this rubric,” she said. 

• James Varney can be reached at jvarney@washingtontimes.com.

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