SPRING TWP., Pa. – The Wilson School Board heard sharp criticism Monday night from parents who oppose a proposed district policy on equity and referred to it as "Marxist propaganda."
Last month, the board had a first reading of the new equity policy. A second reading was scheduled for Monday night's meeting. Officials removed it from the agenda last week because the board wanted more time to talk it over.
In addition, the board said some people expressed concerns about the proposed policy after they read correspondence from state Rep. Jim Cox, who represents parts of Berks and Lancaster counties.
Board Vice President Steph Kocher said Cox's letter contained misinformation.
"Unfortunately, Representative Jim Cox failed to contact the district to understand the policy before he published misinformation pertaining to the Wilson School District," Kocher said. "We have requested a face-to-face meeting to clarify the facts."
Superintendent Richard Faidley declined to elaborate what was misleading about Cox's correspondence with the community.
The proposed policy states the district shall be committed to addressing barriers that create achievement or opportunity gaps for students and to ensure that a student's educational achievement is neither predicted nor predetermined by biases.
The proposal identifies the following actions to be taken by the district:
- Address, eliminate and prevent actions, decisions and outcomes that result from discrimination and inequity.
- Evaluate policies and protocols to ensure that they advance district goals of diversity, equity and inclusion.
- Encourage the district stakeholders to consider equity and diversity within the district's communities when making decisions impacting educational programs. (This includes a review of curriculum offerings to ensure programs and materials are selected with a consideration for cultural proficiency and representation.)
- Enlist support of experts and stakeholders to assist school leaders in examining equity practices.
- Recruiting, retaining, developing and advancing a diverse workforce.
- Offer ongoing education for students and staff to continue building capacity in diversity, equity and inclusion strategies.
The proposal also calls for the superintendent to use an equity lens and data to assess which students or groups are achieving at the lowest levels, determine why and target resources to improve overall outcomes.
Most of the community members who spoke against the policy said it was promoting critical race theory.
The American Bar Association defines critical race theory as a "critique of how the social construction of race and institutionalized racism perpetuate a racial caste system that relegates people of color to the bottom tiers."
Two state legislators have sponsored a bill that would prohibit teaching critical race theory in Pennsylvania schools.
Heidi Zerbe told the board she believes the district is broadly overstepping a parental boundary by teaching critical race theory.
Board Solicitor John Miravich stated there is nothing about critical race theory in the district’s proposed policy.
"There is a line between parenting and academics," Zerbe said. "Our tax dollars are being given to the Wilson School District with the assumption that you are preparing our children for the world of jobs. To spread gender confusion and racial bias, in my opinion, is abusive."
"Teaching a young white male adolescent that if he achieves anything, it is not because he worked hard but it's because of his gender and color of skin — how is that building him up?" she asked. "If you tell young Black adolescents that they can't achieve because they are oppressed, how is that building them up to achieve greatness?"
"We are not racists," Zerbe added. "This policy is racist. It teaches our children to only see the world through gender and the color of skin."
A longtime former school board member Randolph Blatt warned the board to be more transparent.
"All I can say is that you better get the public involved in this because if you don't, you will be voted out," Blatt said. "You had no intentions of getting the public involved until recently because of Cox's letter."
Community member Carla Mannix, who is also the assistant director of academic support services at Alvernia University, took a stance different from other public speakers and told the board she approves of an equity task force, calling it an excellent direction for the district.
"In light of recently revealed historic truths, I encourage you to consult your teachers to know the impact that racism has had on our students," Mannix said. "We seek to build an inclusive society."
Kocher then read a statement on the proposed policy.
"The policy is designed to create a framework for the district's commitment to ensure an equitable experience for all students," Kocher said. "As a district, we define educational equity as when educational policies, practices, interactions and resources are representative of, constructed by and responsive to all people so that each individual has access to, meaningfully participates in and has a positive outcome from high-quality learning experiences, regardless of an individual's characteristics and group memberships."
Kocher also said the policy would affirm the district's commitment to teaching the Pennsylvania standards for social studies.
The school board said a policy ad hoc committee meeting will take place in the fall to further address the proposed equity policy.