Erika Cohen: I am a school board member. Anti-CRT bills are stoking fear in our district.
In a Chalkbeat First Person column, Erika Cohen talks about what’s happening to a local school board in Southern New Hampshire, where the CRT panic is heating up.
In Southern New Hampshire, where I live and chair the Derry school board, recent and proposed laws have landed us a lot of national attention. Last spring, the state legislature passed a law as part of the state budget limiting the teaching of so-called divisive concepts. Specifically, it forbids educators from teaching that one group of people is inherently inferior or superior to another, or inherently racist or sexist.
When it passed, I talked to parents who were fearful that teaching about racism, and the free exchange of ideas in the classroom, could be misconstrued as violating the law, which would lead teachers to be wary. The board also faced questions from community members about a social studies teacher who took a grant-paid sabbatical and studied diversity, equity and how bias impacts teaching and learning. Some community members accused her of teaching critical race theory, which was not the case.
These fears were further stoked this fall. In November, the New Hampshire Department of Education launched a webpage for parents to lodge complaints against teachers who breach the divisive concepts law, and the state chapter of Moms for Liberty announced a $500 reward for the first person to catch a public school teacher violating the law. In response to a question on Twitter about how to contribute, people were told to donate with a note that says, “CRT Bounty,” referring to critical race theory.
I first heard the term critical race theory when it came up in a question during a school board election forum last March. Since then, it has been used at school board meetings as a catchall among those who want to ban references in school to Black Lives Matter, social justice movements, and white privilege. The term has morphed from one used for a framework of legal and academic topics, primarily discussed at the college level, into a rallying cry for those looking to limit discussions about racism.
That transformation was concerning — not because parents don’t have the right to share their views and concerns with their school board, but because the content of their concerns seemed divorced from the reality of the teaching happening in our district. The teacher who took a sabbatical started a culture club and presented with students at a board meeting. The students talked about learning to consider opinions very different then their own and to celebrate differences instead of judging them. To me, this sounded like the kind of learning I wanted to see.