Norwin’s debate continues over systemic racism and critical race theory

The disagreement over whether a Norwin High School lesson on racism in the United States was an example of critical race theory has laid bare a split over what to teach about race relations in the 21st century America – including whether systemic racism exists in a country that has laws intended to prohibit such actions.

The latest round of verbal sparring between members of the Norwin School Board portends a bitter debate at future meetings, when a conservative faction proposes banning Critical Race Theory teaching, even though Superintendent Jeff Taylor said she was not taught or part of high school. study programme.

Monday night’s reunion featured a shoutout match about the segregated military during World War II, how Jim Crow laws suppressed black people, an acknowledgment of 400 years of racism in America and a depiction of the American Civil War then. that the Union army was fighting slavery Democrats.

Principal Alex Detschelt, a leader of the conservative school boards group, said he would suggest that any discussion of systemic racism arising after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 be forbidden to Norwin because “post-1965 systemic racism is a myth.

This week’s discussion — the latest in a series of controversial questions aired at Norwin school board meetings — was prompted by principal Shawna Illagan’s claim last month that a high school social studies assignment using a 2020 magazine article about racism in the country was an example that critical race theory was being taught in schools.

the story called “Two Americas” by Upfront, a magazine for use in high school classrooms that The New York Times publishes in partnership with Scholastic Inc., focused on inequality in five areas of American life.

Illagan defended her position, saying the mission she was referring to was “all about systemic racism now.”

“This current systemic thing is a toxic ideology. … It’s got to stop,” Illagan said.

While acknowledging that some people are racist, “there is no evidence that our social order or our American system is racist against anyone of color,” Illagan said, prompting a round of applause.

As an example, Illagan said a Pittsburgh courtroom may have a black criminal on trial, a black attorney, and a black judge.

“So what was the difference?” Their life choices,” said Illagan, who is white but has previously said she has mixed-race children.

The dispute over what Norwin students should learn about racism in the country — both past and present — mirrors what’s happening nationwide in states including Mississippi, Florida and Texas. , who have passed legislation limiting what public schools are allowed to teach on the controversial subject.

“Difficult and painful subjects”

“The CRT grew out of legal scholarship some 40 years ago as a recognition at the time of the systemic impact of race on society and the law,” said Melissa Marks, professor of education at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, which teaches a course on diversity. in America.

Issues of discrimination and past slavery are “difficult and painful topics” to discuss in public schools, said Marks, who will speak at a community education event, “White Privilege/Implicit Bias” at 6:30 p.m. on March 23 at the Greensburg. YWCA, 424 Main Street N.

“We are ready, once again, to ignore the story and end the discussion because they make us uncomfortable,” Marks said. “It’s the politicization of teaching American history.”

While Detschelt and Illagan claimed systemic racism ended in 1965, Marks said “research has shown it’s alive” regardless of laws passed six decades ago.

The social studies lesson on racism was taken out of context, was shocking and was not representative of Norwin or the respect teachers deserve, said Evan Blenko.

“Over the past few months, the council has created a climate of mistrust. Teachers no longer feel like their own district supports them,” Blenko said.

When the board drafts its policy banning critical race theory, Blenko suggested that directors “consult with teachers…to prove that this is more than political theater.”

If the school district were to censor required subjects from an advanced placement course, the College Board — which administers the AP program — said it would remove that AP designation, Irwin’s Jason Davis said. The state Department of Education partially grades schools based on the number of AP classes and students enrolled in those classes.

By attacking teachers and threatening to set up an anonymous hotline to complain about teachers, “fosters an environment of mistrust and fear,” Davis said, adding that the council should take a step back from “its political hacking and its extreme positions”.

Director Bob Wayman, a Republican Party official in the Norwin area, pointed out that it was the Democratic power structure in the South that had instituted systemic racism in the United States. He said his two male ancestors fought in the Civil War and killed Democrats.

At one point, as Davis shouted about segregation while Wayman spoke, Jeff Pritts, the school board resource officer and former Greensburg police officer, approached him to calm him down.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252, [email protected] or via Twitter .

Sharon D. Cole