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Stonington says it does not teach critical race theory in its schools

Stonington — The school system has issued a statement saying claims that schools here are teaching critical race theory are false.

Pointing out that critical race theory, or CRT, is a college-level theory course, the statement said the school system posts its Board of Education-approved, standards-based curriculums on its website, stoningtonschools.org, where they have been available to the public for more than four years. It added the school system is "committed to continuing this transparent process."

The school system said it is proud of its work regarding diversity, equity and inclusion, which aligns with state standards on providing a culturally responsive education.

"Our teachers and administrators must be supported and encouraged to teach the truth about history in order to develop critical thinking and perspective in our students so that they, the students we serve, can draw their own conclusions about the past, current events, and the impacts of social injustice," it added. "It is our duty to teach students to be respectful of all human beings regardless of race, ethnic origin, gender, social class, ability, religion, or sexual orientation."

CRT is a four-decade-old concept that racism is ingrained in the country's legal, education and economic systems and policies and not just expressed by individuals. More recently, critics of the theory who say it creates division have launched efforts across the country to ensure it is not taught in public schools. Some educators and supporters of the theory say this has created a chilling effect on teaching students historical facts and events involving race.

During a June 10 school board meeting here, two residents expressed concerns about CRT being taught in the school system.

Connie Szymonik of Mystic, who said she was a retired teacher who had taught in New London and Ledyard, told the board she is "very very, concerned about CRT being taught in schools across the country." She asked the board if it is being taught in Stonington.  

"I'm very concerned with its infiltration in a hidden and implanted way in our very beautiful Connecticut town of Stonington," she told the board, adding that CRT could slip into the local curriculum through national and state standards "and we may not even know it."

She offered examples from across the country, such as teachers in a Missouri system having to locate themselves on an "oppression matrix" and fifth graders in Philadelphia being told to simulate a Black power rally to free activist Angela Davis from prison in the early 1970s. She said "diversity education" is a term implanted into education by CRT.

A man who did not give the school board his name said sometimes CRT gets camouflaged. "You can call it something else, like constitutional studies," he said. "They call it whatever they want. This stuff is being taught ... and it's based on errors."    

Since July 2020, when the school system's leadership team published its Call to Action, the system's Aug. 6 statement said administrators and teachers have engaged in professional learning and conversations about race and racism in an effort "to advance the district towards becoming an anti-racist, anti-biased learning environment."

"The leadership again states its commitment to this work and makes this statement boldly, that our schools are not
the place for hatred, prejudice, and bigotry," the school system added. 

The Call to Action, signed last summer by the 15 administrators who make up the leadership team, was in response to a Change.org petition signed by 532 students, alumni and residents who pressed school officials to take action to address systemic racism and structural inequality within the school system.

"First, we, as the educational leaders of Stonington Public Schools, acknowledge racism is real, pervasive, and persistent in our world, our state, and our town. It may be uncomfortable for some to hear, but to say otherwise would be untruthful. We also acknowledge that the trauma created by systemic racism is real," the administrators had said. "Recognizing these truths, we stand ready to take concrete and measurable steps to address it within our school system. We hear your voices, and we will take action."

They added that they recognized the work is long overdue and that the curriculum design process, program offerings and style of instruction must address the historical and current inequities experienced by people of color.

"Black Lives Matter. We can do better, we will do better, we must do better," added the 15 administrators, led by Superintendent of Schools Van Riley.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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