Essex school officials say proposed equity policy informed by ‘critical race theory’

Published: Jun. 2, 2021 at 11:51 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 3, 2021 at 4:51 AM EDT
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ESSEX, Vt. (WCAX) - The Essex Westford School District is moving forward with further discussions on a proposed equity policy. There was broad support for the proposal from parents and students at Tuesday’s school board meeting. However, one of the board members -- and some community members -- have balked at elements of the plan that they say could be influenced by “critical race theory.”

“We feel our policy is in the best interest of all of our students. We want to create a system that is welcoming to all and everyone has a sense of belonging,” said Essex Westford School District Superintendent Beth Cobb. She says they want to make sure every student, no matter their race, or ability, is given the opportunities they need to succeed.

Equity and inclusion director Erin Maguire says that’s part of what the new equity policy is about. “The equity policy is designed to be beneficial to all students it is not designed to take away from anyone it’s designed to ensure opportunity for everyone,” she said.

Some of the policies are informed by “critical race theory,” which teaches that systemic racism and inequality are embedded in all aspects of American life. Supporters say it makes classrooms more inclusive and equitable and helps students overcome systemic barriers limiting their achievement.

But critics argue the theory is divisive and teaches kids their country is inherently evil and that teaching it in schools amounts to activism in the classroom, which is what some community members have argued over the past several weeks.

“It is not about our white privileged students losing anything -- that’s not what it’s about. Some people fear that if we do this work, some white students may lose something. It’s not about that, it’s about opening up more for everybody,” says Cobb.

The district also says critical race theory is not a curriculum, but rather a lens through which to look at history. The policy also aims to help students who are struggling with things like homelessness, disabilities, or who are LGBTQIA+. Maguire says she hopes conversations allow people in Essex to listen to what each other is dealing with. “This is about race as well and making sure students have an understanding of racism and thinking about institutional racism, systemic and structural racism. I know that the conversation has centered there. It is far behind that and it is a really important part of this conversation,” she said.

At the meeting on Tuesday, the overwhelming majority of people supported the new policy. “Equity is not about shaming white people nor is it about labeling or dividing people. It’s about righting past wrongs with a view towards the future for a fair and just world. I am incredibly grateful and supportive of the work that the Essex Westford School District is doing,” said community member Emily Franz

While one student spoke out against it. “Residents of Essex and Westford will not stand idly by as anti-whiteness invades our school system. What you people plan to do is redistribute opportunity based solely on individual identity characteristics that almost never have any bearing on a student’s success or fulfillment,” says Alex Katsnelson, a student in the district.

We reached out to the board member who has spoken out against the new policy but did not receive a response. The school district is hosting a meeting on Monday to hear more comments.

The policy will be voted on likely at the June 15 school board meeting.

Related Story:

Essex-Westford School Board gets closer to voting on equity policy

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