School boards need to let the professionals teach
School board elections across the country and here in Connecticut are veering into disturbing and dangerous territory, threatening students' educational futures and teachers' academic freedom.
Disinformation campaigns — fueled largely by radical conservative groups whipped up by anger over school mask mandates, nostalgia for better times that never existed and what they contend without evidence is being taught in history classes — have resulted in threats and harassment of some sitting school board members and ugly mobs disrupting board meetings.
The divisive political rhetoric also has resulted in many more people running for board seats. While such an increase in civic interest for these typically ho-hum races generally would be viewed as a positive, the introduction of politics onto boards that operate apolitically is unwarranted, sad and counterproductive.
In the wealthy shoreline community of Guilford this year, for example, five political newcomers won hotly contested slots on the Republican ballot. They solidified their control in a September primary petitioned by the long-time school board incumbents they had edged out in caucus. The number one reason to elect them, they now contend, is to "stop indoctrination in Critical Race Theory." This is listed on the candidates' "5 Reasons Why" website.
Similar battles are being waged in towns from New Canaan to Glastonbury as CRT and other issues, such as eliminating school mascots that insult and denigrate native Americans, having gender-neutral bathrooms in schools, and athletics participation by transgender students, are continually trumpeted as calls to culture wars on social media and by right-wing pundits on the likes of Fox news. What has been summarily ignored by those fighting these culture wars, however, is the fact that education officials throughout Connecticut have repeatedly said that CRT, a philosophy developed some 40 years ago that studies the influence of racism in established institutions such as the judicial system, is not taught in the state's K-12 public schools.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told the Associated Press recently that this politicization of school board elections is "a craven and anti-democratic attempt to usurp local control over our kids' education."
In a statement to the Associated Press, Weingarten continued: "Their goal is to limit students' understanding of historical and current events and attack common-sense safety measures such as masking by bullying those who believe in science and teaching honest history."
Teaching a World War II history lesson that discusses the role of the Tuskegee Airmen or Navajo code talkers is not an example of CRT, despite a Guilford school board candidate telling a Hartford Courant reporter that it was at the heart of his decision to seek election. That lesson is an example of recognizing that the long-time view of history focusing primarily on the achievements of wealthy, white males actually left out an awful lot of history.
Candidates for Boards of Education in Connecticut must recognize the facts known to those who already serve on these boards. School boards have a narrow scope of authority in this state. They control school purse strings through budget authority. They guide school policy. They hire school superintendents and strive to keep them accountable.
They do not have control over day-to-day school operations and cannot dictate precisely what professional educators teach in their classrooms.
This is as it should be. Teachers are educated, trained, skilled and supervised in their profession. They should be allowed academic freedom and their classrooms should be free from political infighting.
Most who run for election to boards of education do so out of the motivation to do what's best for children. This is likely at the heart of why even those candidates who are now whipped up by culture war rhetoric chose to run. They must keep this in mind if elected and remember their responsibility is to all children, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or religion.
May all those elected on Nov. 2 recognize the business of education is best left to professional educators.
The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.