Over the course of the past couple years, the term “critical race theory” (CRT) has become a flashpoint of sorts for public school districts across the country. 
Last week, the policy committee of the Lakeland Union High School board of education met and discussed the possibility of CRT as well as the 1619 Project as formal curriculum items for history and social studies classes at LUHS. 
“Critical race theory (CRT) is a cross-disciplinary intellectual and social movement of civil-rights scholars and activists who seek to examine the intersection of race, society, and law in the United States and to challenge mainstream American liberal approaches to racial justice,” the definition for CRT reads in Wikipedia. 
“The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative from The New York Times Magazine that began in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery,” reads the website for The New York Times. “It aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.”
“Concerning critical race theory and the 1619 Project ... all I have, at this point is we need to get this off our agenda,” policy committee chairman Barry Seidel said at at the May 12 meeting of the policy committee.
He said what he’d like to do is have another meeting “with more time and a couple expert witnesses.”
“I’d also like to somehow informally poll or maybe have administration be prepared to give us some feedback on how ... we’re going to address these issues in our curriculum,” he said. “That’s why I brought it back up on the agenda.”
Committee member Shawn Umland, attending via conference call, asked if there were already policies regarding this in place at other public school districts in the state.
“There are some schools, I don’t know if they’re state of Wisconsin schools because I haven’t had a chance to research it that far, that have implemented policies that specifically state that these topics will not be taught in the way that they’re defined in their public schools,” Seidel said. “We also have some interesting things going on with training in the state.”
He said that training had educators “I won’t say subjected to” but were being asked to attend sessions on equity and white privilege “and are being taught components of critical race theory as a method or explanation of how they should deal with classroom issues related to white privilege.”
“So, even though we may or may not have a policy within the profession, it’s being pushed out,” Seidel said. “I can point to a couple of training sessions that were publicized by DPI (Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction) that included this training. Whether or not we’re authorizing it in our school, staff that may or may not have attended these sessions, is getting the training on how to teach it and address it in classroom curriculum.”
He said he was of the belief if the board of education was going to make a statement about the matter, it needed to do that. 
“If we’re not going to, then we don’t,” Seidel said. 
“It’s currently not in our curriculum, correct?” committee member Ann Hunt asked.
“I wouldn’t say that,” committee member Barb Peck said. 
“Could we define what ‘it’ is?” interim LUHS district administrator Dr. Claire Martin asked. 
Seidel explained he had CRT and the 1619 Project on the agenda for curriculum discussion but could expand it to include white privilege.
“Basically, alternative history curriculums, for lack of a better explanation,” he said. 
“We have been made aware of a couple of assignments at least, especially in the social studies area, where the students were given an assignment about white privilege,” Peck said. “
Seidel said the assignment had to do with the sale of a certain candy and Band Aids.
“Proper skin color Band Aids and how that might be offensive,” he said. “That the natural skin color of a Band Aid was an example of white privilege.”
“Is it wrong to have a teacher discuss that and the students be aware this exists?” Hunt asked. “I mean, there’s gonna be some uncomfortable conversations.”
“I hope so,” Seidel said. 
“But I don’t think taking it away from the view of these students ... I mean, don’t we want them to be thinking about these things?” Hunt asked. “I’m not saying we tell the students ‘This is white privilege’ and this is how this works and this is how people think because it’s very subjective ... but our students need to be aware that this is out there.”
She said it doesn’t mean “you teach to” CRT. 
“But our students need to be aware of that,” Hunt said. “Whether we say ‘Yes, this how you should think’ and ‘This is white privilege’ or ‘This is not white privilege.’ I don’t think we can take critical race theory and the 1619 Project ... it’s in our history now. So, it’s out there now. The kids have to be aware of what it is.”
After a few more minutes of discussion, Martin told the committee she felt “keeping things simple is always the best.”
“The goal of an education for a child in public education today is to teach them to think critically,” she said. “Using the facts that we know to be facts and that in itself is a question, right? What is a fact and what is an opinion? Which is in of itself a skill and then teaching students to use information to put together a rational conclusion for themselves.”
Seidel said again he would continue to have the matter prepared for at least one more policy committee meeting in the near future. 
Brian Jopek may be reached via email at bjopek@lakelandtimes.com