Garfield County Latino Committee delves into Critical Race Theory concerns during education panel discussion
When it comes to race relations and other political topics in the classroom, there’s a distinction to be made between teaching something and teaching about something.
That observation came from Roaring Fork Schools’ School-Community Organizer Brianda Cervantes, who represented the district on an education issues panel hosted by the new Garfield County Latino Community Committee last week.
“We do not teach Critical Race Theory in our schools,” Cervantes said when the question came up during the committee’s monthly meeting at the New Castle Recreation Center.
But that’s not to say the conversation hasn’t entered into classrooms, she said.
“We do teach about controversial current events and we do teach about political situations that rise to national attention or historical prominence,” Cervantes said.
Examples besides the latest political buzz around issues of race and discrimination and the controversial debate about Critical Race Theory might include political and economic systems, or religion, she said.
“We don’t teach communism, but we teach about communism. We don’t teach white supremacy, but we do teach about white supremacy when it becomes important,” Cervantes said.
She assured attendees at the forum that Roaring Fork Schools remain focused on teaching the basics as outlined in the Colorado state standards.
Latino Committee member Kelvin Martinez said there is some concern in the Latino community that public schools can tend to focus more on controversial issues than the basics.
“You brought up teaching (about) communism,” he said. “Well, that’s a political religion, but when it comes to Christianity that’s not allowed in schools.”
Garfield School District 16 Superintendent Brad Ray also spoke on the panel along with Garfield Re-2 Board of Education member Katie Mackley.
“It’s important to understand that schools are where the community shows up, which means every belief and every ideal shows up every day,” Ray said. “Regardless of the topic, I think that if you are going to educate the whole child … you have to have a safe environment in your classroom where you’re free to have that opinion as a student.”
Creative thinking and problem solving can be just as important as learning reading, writing and math, Ray said.
“I will tell you, though, if you don’t have some mastery of fundamental literacy and math skills in your early years, you’ll have a rough road ahead.
“If we don’t have those skills mastered I don’t know if we really create the critical thinking that we need around any type of topic,” he said.
Mackley offered that teaching around race issues or any current events in the world has unfortunately become political and divisive.
“We do have an open door policy in our district,” she said. “We encourage robust and diverse conversation and welcome that in our classrooms.”
If parents have any concerns about the curriculum, they are welcome to talk with board members, principals and administrators.
“If there are gaps, we need to address them,” Mackley said.
Similar concerns were expressed the same night as the Latino Committee meeting on Sept. 8 during public comments before the Roaring Fork District school board.
Carbondale parent Chris Moon said two of his high school-age children were exposed to what they believed to be biased discussion of Critical Race Theory in class. When they confronted the teacher about it, he said they were talked down.
“We send our kids to public schools. That is what we wanted,” Moon said of public school experiences in multiple states.
“Until now,” he said. “You are turning us into a homeschool family. The problem is the school district and teachers do not seem interested in teaching kids how to think, they want to teach kids what to think. It’s not about education. It’s about indoctrination. And it’s immoral.”
Cervantes said during the Latino Committee forum that, when it comes to the kinds of conversations that can naturally occur in social studies classes, Roaring Fork Schools teachers are asked to follow a formal Educators Guide to Civil Discourse.
“It is very detailed when it comes to supporting students’ way of thinking and being respectful, and avoiding indoctrination,” Cervantes said.
“What you believe comes down to your culture and what you carry with you,” she said. “We’re very mindful of that and acknowledge that each student will have a different background and opinions, and that they are very respected in our school district.”
The panel also touched on issues around public health protocols aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19, services for special needs students, staffing concerns and hiring of bilingual personnel, and policies around bilingual communications with Spanish-speaking families in general.
Joyce Rankin, the 3rd Congressional District representative on the Colorado Board of Education, also addressed questions from the committee and attendees.
Committee member Karina Ventura, a Coal Ridge High School student, asked Rankin how the state is addressing lost instruction time during the pandemic.
Rankin said it’s still unknown what kind of catching up will be needed, since state assessments were not fully administered last school year.
“I think there are a lot of questions that we can’t answer right now, but I do have a lot of faith in our students that once they get back together they will work at catching up,” Rankin said.
She also pointed to one-time COVID response money coming to school districts from the federal government that can be used for extra tutoring and more academic-focused summer school programs.
“Locally, you should see where that money is being spent, and I would encourage input on that,” Rankin said.
Post Independent education reporter Rich Allen contributed to this report.
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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