If anyone thought the first in-person meeting of the West Linn-Wilsonville School Board was going to be a quiet one, they were wrong.
Amid the pandemic, all public meetings went remote, and when concerns arose within the community, residents were left with only one avenue through which to comment: email.
Anyone driving down Stafford Road just before the Monday, July 12, board meeting would have seen folks waving American flags, shouting and holding up signs that read "ban CRT" and "unmask our kids." Meetings were back to an in-person setting and people were ready to be heard.
After calling the meeting to order and swearing in the three newly elected board members. Board Chair Chelsea King opened the floor for public comments. The majority of comments urged the board not to support the use of critical race theory in its schools.
Don Powers took to the mic to say that he didn't want to talk about policy. Instead he wanted to remind the school board of their role as elected officials.
"Your role is to make sure that you represent those parents and the curriculum that they want their children to be raised in — not yours, not the state's agenda, regardless of what that is — whether its CRT, BLM (Black Lives Matter) tendencies, or some of the transgender education that you're trying to put in place," he said.
Critical race theory is a political science view that racism is not only the result of personal biases, but is systemic — embedded in policies and institutions. Advocates cite slavery, Jim Crow laws, redlining and continued racial wealth inequality as evidence for this theory. Detractors view it as a repudiation of the American experiment.
The district released a statement June 19 clarifying that CRT is not a formal part of curriculum in the district, but teachers could use it as a tool.
"Critical race theory is not a curriculum in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District. However, it can be a lens that our school board, staff or students may apply when discussing issues around race and racism," Superintendent Kathy Ludwig said in a message to the community.
Ludwig said in the message that updates had been made to curriculum used in the district including "creating social studies units grounded in understanding racial equity and social justice through a revised historical analysis of historical and current events."
Many who spoke against CRT said they believed it pitted child against child, and led to Marxist beliefs advocating for an elimination of social classes and private ownership.
The public outcry against CRT is not unique to the WL-WV school district, nor to the year 2021. For decades parents on the political right have had concerns about textbooks and schools of thought that promoted equity and used CRT as a lens to view history.
Although no one at the July 12 meeting commented directly in support of CRT, one speaker, Andrew Engle, asked the board to uphold an honest account of history in the district's curriculum. His daughter is going into kindergarten and he said he sees a pressure in society to teach an almost censored version of history.
"Whatever considerations you give toward curriculum, please keep an honest and sincere accounting of this country. I don't know how many people don't realize why Oregon is as monolithically white as it is," he said.
Many who gave public comments at the meeting conflated their concerns about critical race theory with their belief that students should not be required to wear face coverings.
"Masks don't really do any good for younger people since they're practically immune to COVID. … We're removing their individuality by forcing them into these masks," Lyneil Vandermolen said.
She likened face masks children are asked to wear today to the "white cotton masks" that she said enslaved people were forced to wear to remove their individuality.
Other parents spoke out against masking their kids, citing that the coverings were uncomfortable for their children, that they came home with soaking wet masks and that wearing them made their children not want to go to school.
The district recently announced that students would not be required to wear face coverings next school year, though they would still be "strongly advised" for those who are not vaccinated against COVID-19.
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