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Many thanks to all the residents who brought the following letter from this week's Gazette to your editor's attention. It is re-printed here with the permission of the author, Jessica Dieckman. SEE BELOW:
To Dr. O’Connell, Mr. Griffiths and The Croton Harmon School Board,
I didn’t attend the equity World Cafe Night because I don’t agree with the recommendations. I noticed a portion of my review was included (without permission) in the Croton Connections email on the equity work. My June review, which was specific to that night and included the suggestion for us to move away from NYU Metro and their ideas, expressed how little time the team had to actually discuss the recommendations put forth, recommendations not generated so much by team members but installed by NYU Metro and Natalie Zwerger.
Many community members and fellow Croton Harmon parents immediately recognized that my quote from that email doesn’t accurately represent my views of the equity team recommendations. These parents shared their awareness of a frenzied push in education occurring nationally, and have gone out of their way to contact me and thank me for being brave enough to speak out against ideas they see being forced-through here in Croton.
NYU Metro promotes an 'Anti-Racist' program, which I and others here in Croton oppose based on the understanding that the Anti-Racism movement intends to install a far-left political direction into schools. I feel we were pressured into accepting all of these political stances as fact and not as opinion, with no real discussion. Not all parents, students and teachers will agree with this political direction, which is why many people often refer to this work as indoctrination. There are many ways to talk about fighting racism in America, the Anti-Racism movement only allows for one way of thinking. It is not inclusive at all and people can sense this when they are exposed to it.
My main concerns about the equity team recommendations are as follows:
• Regarding the hiring practices recommendation:
I don’t believe we should focus on hiring people with emphasis on race, gender, or sexuality (which may not even be legal under New York State or federal anti-discrimination laws), but rather on their qualifications and credentials for teaching our children. The idea that a child can relate only to people that look like them is an absurd philosophy. Color and background are factors that should have little bearing when a class finds a teacher engaging as an individual, interesting, authoritative, and deeply knowledgeable about subjects of common interest. I strongly fear we will pass over excellent candidates while looking for someone to fit a particular profile because of these misguided ideas. The concept that students are better off learning only from, and around, people that look like them recently lead an Atlanta, Georgia school principal to create 'white and black' classrooms, whereby children were completely segregated by skin-color, an outrageous and disturbing idea in the year 2021.
• Regarding the curriculum recommendations:
As a certified classroom teacher with a Master’s degree who worked in public schools (including Croton Harmon), and as a parent, I strongly oppose these too. An audit (the definition and parameters of which has not been made clear) of teachers' lessons and library books by a zealous group of people from an equity team, with no qualifications or background in education or childhood development, is a horrible idea. I’m against critiquing everything in our schools to determine if it is politically correct. Problematizing teachers’ activities and duties by entering all classrooms to micromanage them with an audit of this nature is completely inappropriate and threatens to break some of the trust with teaching faculty (who have worked very hard to build trust and establish themselves as the professionals that they indeed are).
I also feel it was inappropriate to hold an equity meeting this Summer with the far-left political activist from Yorktown for Justice, Marisa Ragonese, who presented guidance on how to avoid discussions with people who don’t agree with a far-left push in education. She made many assumptions that it is exclusively conservative parents against these ideas when, in fact, people of all political backgrounds have disagreed with the ideas coming from the equity team. Interestingly, once she became acquainted with some of the trainings we got from NYU Metro, Ms. Ragonese explained that these trainings were actually not intended for people like parents and teachers, but were specifically prepared for far-left activists. Her important observation makes me feel even more strongly that we need to go back to the drawing board completely with much of this work. Heavy politicization detracts from the efforts to protect and raise up the strengths of our students.
I have had so many people approach me this Summer to discuss the equity work (church, the supermarket and the town pool being some of the settings for these interactions) and all of them find it either very concerning or they completely disagree with the recommendations. Their frustration has been palpable within these conversations, and gives me cause to reflect: I have been on this team for a year now and wonder if my concerns and critiques, along with those of the fellow Croton Harmon parents who have approached me, are going to be completely ignored. Was my time wasted; are peoples' concerns with this being addressed anywhere; where is the impact of that being shown? Please slow this process down! Haste makes waste. We have excellent and highly regarded schools made up of amazing teachers and staff in a caring community! Let’s maintain those strengths and build upon them instead of damaging or stalling them, and move forward considerately, slowly and carefully and approve nothing at the September 28th meeting. Demand we go back and discuss all of the different ideas in due time.
In my June review I also mentioned how the scheduled-times during which the equity meetings took place limited people from different socio-economic backgrounds from participating, because all meetings took place during conventional business and working hours. That is an improvement-factor to consider. In a similar vein, one consistent complaint I have received from other parents is that the World Cafe night, which had an undetermined number of potential attendees, was arranged to happen in-person, while the back to school nights, with a reasonably fixed and forecasted number of attendees, have been arranged to be online-meetings. In terms of equity, an in-person back to school night, where parents are immersed with their child's teacher, fellow parents and classroom learning materials, would have been extremely helpful for all Croton families and students.
Our kids have been stressed out significantly with Covid and don’t need an education that abruptly becomes race-centered or political in nature to add to the pressure. Students today are at risk for substance abuse problems, mental health disorders, and physical health problems at an increasing rate. We should be focusing on mitigating these issues as a top priority for leveraging greater educational successes.
Please read this letter at the September 28th Board of Education work session meeting. I really don’t want to be ignored or taken out of context. If not read, I ask that this letter go on the board's record and please let me know at which meetings coming up I will be able to comment on this.
Thank you for your time and consideration.