Nearly two dozen people spoke during the public comments period at the Alamance-Burlington school board’s latest meeting Monday night – with most of the speakers registering their opposition, or support for, in equal numbers – “Critical Race Theory.”
It was the first time since the spring of 2016, when school board members were beginning the lengthy and often politically-charged process of redrawing high school attendance boundaries, that the crowd inside the board’s meeting room swelled beyond capacity, spilling into an adjoining hallway.
Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a “scholarly framework that describes how race, class, gender, and sexuality organize American life,” based on description from the history department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
A number of people who attended the school board’s meeting Monday night wore red t-shirts reading, “Mark Robinson Lieutenant Governor,” an apparent show of support for North Carolina’s first black lieutenant governor, who is also a voting member of the State Board of Education (SBE) and outspoken critic of Critical Race Theory.
Robinson has repeatedly criticized what he calls destructive concepts that are subtly woven into the new K-12 social studies standards that the SBE approved earlier this year.
Several ABSS parents previously voiced opposition to CRT during the school board’s May 24 meeting, leading the board to adjourn early that night when the public comments period turned into a shouting match between school board member Patsy Simpson and several audience members.
One booted early on
School board chairman Allison Gant laid down the ground rules for public comments early on this week. Shortly before the public comments period began Monday night, she outlined a school board policy – such as the three-minute time limit per speaker – attendees would be required to follow, warning that any disruptions could result in being ejected from the meeting.
One audience member decided to test it for herself, speaking loudly from her seat in the audience before being escorted out by Burlington police, as she hollered out, “Silence me all you want.” (None of the woman’s other remarks were audible.)
The same school board policy recommends designating a single spokesperson if several people plan to speak on the same topic, though there’s no requirement that they do so, Gant pointed out for the crowd.
Nor did she require any speakers to designate a spokesperson.
Instead, Gant allowed nearly two hours for all 24 people to say their piece Monday night before she and her fellow school board members turned to their meeting agenda around 8:20 p.m.
A total of 23 people spoke about CRT during public comments Monday night.
Eleven vigorously opposed CRT; nine explicitly endorsed what they view as a more inclusive approach to K-12 education; and a couple of others touched on related issues.
Omar Lugo of Burlington, chairman of the county’s Republican Party, said that CRT is a continuation of the same ideology that destroyed his native country of Venezuela. “I came from Communism,” he told school board members Monday night. Ever since I came to America, I started seeing the same things, especially in our county. I ask you to think about our children – these are destructive ideologies.”
Katlin Wright of Burlington said that, as a parent of a rising 7th grader and a rising 8th grader, she’s concerned about what her children are learning. “[The teacher’s] job is to teach two plus two and how to write a complete sentence, she said, questioning whether the purpose of CRT is “ensuring achievement for all,” as some supporters claim, or “guaranteeing a passing grade for a failing student…As for values, that should be [taught] in the home.”
Critical Race Theory draws supporters and opponents at ABSSof Mebane insisted that ABSS teachers should “teach the facts about history” but have no business teaching children what or how to think. “I’m going to run for the school board next time around and, for anybody that puts this garbage in kids’ heads, I’m coming for your position,” Butner added.
Charlie Beasley of Burlington told school board members Monday night that he believes the public school system needs a “complete overhaul,” because of “psycho-science [being] pushed on our children more than it ever has [been]” and because of what he characterized
as a “lack of unbiased, fact-based education.” He also asked the school board to support pending state legislation that would prohibit CRT from being incorporated into K-12 education.
Ed Priola of Mebane, who had also raised concerns about CRT during the school board’s May 24 meeting, reiterated them this week. “Critical race theory is not science – it’s garbage propaganda,” he said. “It’s based in the Frankfurt School – a Marxist think tank in the 1930s,” he said, referring to a school of social theory and philosophy which had been associated with the Institute of Goethe University in Germany prior to World War II and centered on criticism of capitalism (and other economic systems) and finding alternatives to create an ideal society, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. “They were forced out by the Nazis,” and came to the U.S., where they infiltrated academia, Priola said, urging school board members to investigate what’s being taught in ABSS classrooms.
Brittney Cartner of Graham, who also voiced concerns about CRT the school board’s meeting on May 24, told school board members this week that, as a parent of two ABSS students, she believes in “education that enriches their lives, not that divides…We are diverse here in America, and it is time for parents to take back our schools.”
There are other ways to improve classroom instruction, such as “Hooked on Phonics and the old ways” of teaching, a reduction in screen time (i.e., online instruction), and outdoor activities with hands-on opportunities for learning, Cartner said.
Michael Trollinger of Green Level, who is a Green Level town councilman, described himself as a parent of two ABSS students. One just graduated from Georgia Tech “with the highest honors in architecture,” he said, and the other is enlisting in the U.S. Army. “[Our] flag represents the greatest country in the world; may have bled and sacrificed their lives.”
The town councilman recalled Monday night that he had been “forced to take Critical Race Theory” as an undergraduate in college. “It is based on a hunch; it is a theory,” said Trollinger, who is black. “It uses buzzwords such as equity and equality, which are not the same. Equity means everybody gets the same; equality means I should [be judged] based on my character and not the color of my skin.” The founder of CRT, whom Trollinger called the “first African-American given tenure at Harvard Law School,” claimed that “everything we are is the fault of the white person. The color of my skin never stopped me from advancing in this great country.”
Madison Cole of Mebane, a 15-year-old ABSS student, asked school board members to weigh their decisions carefully. “I’m putting my trust in y’all to make the right decisions because your choice will impact our future,” she said.
Her mother, Tara Cole of Mebane, said she was really surprised to hear several people say at the last meeting (on May 24) that they’d never heard of Critical Race Theory. Cole told school board members Monday night that 2020 was a hard year for her daughter, as she was transitioning into high school during a protracted, statewide school shutdown. “The
isolation has caused irreversible damage,” Tara Cole said. Now, the state “is in a position for CRT to be taught in schools,” which she claims the State Board of Education has received “extensive funding” to launch a pilot program that is already underway in Durham public schools. “I refuse to believe that CRT should ever be used as the standard curriculum in our schools; I refuse to believe that anyone is better than the other.”
Elizabeth Hutcherson of Mebane said her child, a rising 3rd grader at South Mebane Elementary School, stopped having to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of class during online instruction last year. “She’s still required to recite the school pledge,” Hutcherson said, noting that she had contacted her child’s teacher but was never give a reason for the change.
Seneca Rogers of Graham, an ABSS graduate who ran unsuccessfully for the school board last fall, urged ABSS officials Monday night to collaborate with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and the Dream Center (a nonprofit community center in Burlington that provides tutoring and other services for under-served children) to improve “workforce equity” in Alamance County. “Developing and retaining” a well-qualified workforce is essential to demonstrate to new residents that they can flourish in Alamance County and is key to attracting new business, Rogers said.
Neil Schledorn of Burlington, a Williams High School history teacher, pointed out that cultural traits are passed down from one generation to the next; and he falls into several “groups” that share common traits, such as being a white male; in his late 30s; and someone who likes to play video games. “Since culture is such an important lens through which to view everything, it should also be part of our education,” said Schledorn. “What does culturally responsive teaching look like in the classroom? It gives students [an opportunity] to relate content to their own culture,” as well as conducive environment for others to learn real empathy.
Medora Burke-Scoll of Mebane recalled one of her most embarrassing experiences as an educator this week. A couple of years ago, a black student came into her classroom, “throwing her books down mad” and told her that kids in her gym class were being “hateful racists,” the Eastern High School teacher explained. Instead of allowing the student to share her story, the “fixer” in her went to work, asking the student, “how can you tell” and “do you know these boys to be racists.” Worst of all, Burke-Scoll recalled, she told the girl “‘I know those boys’ families – they’re good people,’ instead of standing up for a child when boys were making monkey sounds to her in gym class. I wanted to show her, in that moment, my NAACP membership card, [my] marching on MLK Day. Instead, I showed her my bias.
“I left that interaction feeling awful; I let a child down because I didn’t know what to do,” Burke-Scoll said in urging the board to let the Alamance-Burlington Association of Educators (ABAE) lead ABSS staff in racial equity training to equip them to navigate difficult situations such as the one in which she felt she’d failed the student.
Dorothy Yarborough of Burlington spoke on behalf of the Alamance County chapter of the NAACP Monday night. Historically, the NAACP used to stand for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, she recalled for school board members, adding, “Today we stand for the advancement of all people.” Yarborough also expressed her support for the
having ABSS staff go through the racial equity training that Burke-Scoll suggested. “We have to understand there is a difference between equity and equality; often they are used interchangeably, but they are not the same.” Racial equity training would help people to understand what leads to “equity,” Yarborough explained, and “how one drives the other. “
Anita Phillips described herself as a native of east Burlington who started school at Eastlawn Elementary School and whose mother was a “pillar in the community” and an advocate for education. She said that ABSS has a “deficit of licensed educators” in some of the schools she went through and “definitely a divide” in the types of programs offered in ABSS schools.
“There is a deficit to be addressed, but we need to work quickly,” Phillips said Monday night.
“If something happens in west Burlington, we need it in east Burlington.”
Faith Cook of Graham described herself as a mother of “four kids going into ABSS,” though she said she’d pulled one child out of the local school system. “We are expecting equality inside of a school system that is full of diversity, of multicultural students,” Cook said Monday night. “But we fail to teach that multicultural difference in our curriculum. We fail to give the people who are involved in our school system – who are the parents, the teachers, the kids who come from different cultures – and we want to teach them a uni-culture based on white supremacy that is holding us back. We may not be held back in a way that you are not forced to go out here and make it your own but you are not being taught what you need to be taught – and let it be known that there are ways emotionally and mentally that you are being held back by not teaching what is really out there, by not teaching what is necessary, by still trying to force people to believe that one race is being set up to say that they’re better than another.
“We can say that but when we know different, then we can say that,” Cook continued, adding that she teaches her children that they are different. “I have to say that because that is the truth, or else they will continue to go to places like Graham, which is still part of Alamance County [and] ABSS, and still be faced with pepper-sprayed for speaking the truth that you have within you. I see the faces of the people that are not in acceptance of what I’m saying; I should not be silenced, and neither were the people that are coming after me, my children that I’m going to be lifting up into this community. I speak for myself, for other people to say…[I] will continue to stand against anything that is not recognizing that change is to come.”
ABSS implementing state’s new controversial social studies standards for 2021-22
ABSS superintendent Dr. Bruce Benson said at the May 24 meeting that CRT had not been incorporated into the school system’s curriculum.
However, ABSS is in the process of implementing the state’s new social studies standards for the new 2021-22 school year, according to ABSS deputy superintendent Angela Bost.
Standards represent “what students are expected to know, understand,” and demonstrate mastery of by the end of a course or grade, she explained for the newspaper Wednesday.
ABSS elementary teachers “will use resources developed by ABSS that incorporate” the state’s new social studies standards”; and middle and high school teachers will use lesson plans created by ABSS that are aligned with new social studies standards that the SBE approved earlier this year, Bost said.
Bost cited an example of the differences in the old and new social studies standards for the 3rd grade. The (old) 2010 standard asked students to show how locations of regions and natural resources influence economic development; the (new) 2021 standard asks students to explain how the natural resources of a region impact the production and consumption of goods in local communities.
“The instructional resources are curated by a team during the summer, reviewed by district staff, and then supported throughout the year,” Bost said in response to the newspaper’s question about who’s responsible for implementing the new standards in ABSS schools. “As in any year, the instructional resources are consistently evaluated” at the central office level and at individual schools, she said.