By Peter Jovanovich
At the Rye City School District’s Board of Education meeting May 4, members of the District’s Race, Inclusivity and Community Task Force presented their progress report. According to the District, “The Task Force will take on the challenge of ensuring that we provide a school environment that supports all students and provides equity in opportunity.”
“We are all terribly saddened,” said Task Force member Julie Engerran, “for the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) students who experienced discrimination and inequities as students in the District.” Ms. Engerran was referring to anonymous Instagram posts by past and present students in summer of 2020. Engerran acknowledged that the Task Force had “tough questions to answer” and that not all members agreed “on the definition of equity or inclusion.”
“Intolerance is not acceptable,” said Doreen Zion. “As a parent of a special needs child, it’s important to listen to these stories and to share. I’m happy that we are starting to do the hard work: to work toward the common goal that all students are welcome.”
The Task Force will make recommendations to the Board on June 15. Their report will deal with areas such as Student Support, Curriculum, Data Collection and Analysis, Professional Development, and Athletics.
Not everyone on the Task Force, or within the parent community, agrees with the Task Force’s selection process or direction. At the meeting, conducted via Google Meets, many sharply criticized the District for employing the NYU Steinhardt Center to guide the Task Force. “They are engaged in indoctrination,” said Task Force member David Petty. Several parents, such as Ilana Grossman, objected to the introduction by Steinhardt of Critical Race Theory. “Parents across the country are fighting this new orthodoxy.”
The Steinhardt Center posts on its website a long defense of Critical Race Theory. In the Center’s statement of principle, they state: “We not only affirm anti-racist education, critical race theory, and all of their antecedents, we call for more initiatives.”
Members of the Board, the Task Force, and several supporters pushed back at this criticism, saying that the Board, not Steinhardt, will determine the finished product. “We are not fighting a culture war,” said Board member Chris Repetto. “We are aware of the controversies going around the country.”
Task Force member Ravi Mehta remarked, “The Task Force is not about Marxist theories. We are not a bunch of zealots trying to introduce critical race theory.”
Dennis McCormick urged the Board to dismiss the Steinhardt Center. He asked: “If the Task Force is not about critical race theory, why employ a consultant who vigorously promotes CRT?”
The Board tried to make the point to the unusually large Zoom audience of nearly 90 participants that Steinhardt was advising the Task Force and not the Board itself, which will review the Task Forces’ recommendations in June.