Citizens group votes to oppose Critical Race Theory

Published 4:57 pm Tuesday, July 27, 2021

The Southern and Central Isle of Wight Citizens Group voted unanimously at its July 21 meeting to issue a statement in opposition to the 1619 Project, Critical Race Theory and “all related tenets thereof” being “taught or suggested to either students or staff” in Isle of Wight County’s school system.

The 1619 Project, as previously reported, is a long-form journalism project of the New York Times that holds that 1619 — when the first enslaved Africans arrived on the U.S. mainland at Old Point Comfort, now known as Fort Monroe in Hampton — is as pivotal a year in American history as 1776, when the U.S. Declaration of Independence was signed. Its lead author, Nikole Hannah-Jones, won a 2020 Pulitzer Prize for writing the project’s introductory essay, though the project has become controversial for its claim that the preservation of slavery was among the motivating factors that led the United States to declare independence from England.

Critical Race Theory, as previously reported, refers to the study of how American law and institutions have perpetuated social, economic and political inequalities among minority groups. Per the American Bar Association’s definition, Critical Race Theory — or CRT as it’s often abbreviated — rejects arguments that confine racism to intentional acts by a few “bad apples” and argues meritocracy or “colorblindness” can still result in disparities in the experiences of whites versus people of color.

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According to Volpe Boykin, the group’s president, the vote followed a presentation by Boykin’s wife, Jennifer, Jason Maresh, Terrie Bowden and Adina Rose — all of whom serve on the group’s School Board Watch Committee.

While Isle of Wight school officials have said neither the 1619 Project nor CRT are being taught in any of the county’s schools, the committee contends CRT is “actively being implemented” in schools through “cultural competency requirements” Virginia’s General Assembly enacted earlier this year.

The new law mandates a “cultural competency” performance standard be added to teacher, principal and superintendent evaluations. The Virginia Department of Education defines the term as demonstrating “a commitment to equity,” with the term “equity” referring to “eliminating the predictability of student outcomes based on race, gender, zip code, ability, socioeconomic status or language spoken at home.”

A teacher training presentation by Isle of Wight’s coordinator of equity and inclusion, Kiyaana Cox-Jones, illustrates the differences between equality, equity and social justice with a comic strip showing three children attempting to watch a baseball game from behind a fence. In the equality scenario, each child is given a box to stand on, but the shortest of the three still can’t see over the fence. In the equity scenario, the tallest child is without a box and the shortest has two so all are able to see. In the social justice scenario, the entire fence is removed.

But the citizens group’s presentation takes issue with this scenario.

Equality, it argues, aims to achieve equal opportunities for all, while equity “aims to achieve equal outcomes.”

“This is a socialist approach,” the citizens group’s presentation argues. “Take from some, give to others.”

It then shows an altered version of the comic strip with the tallest and medium height children having had their legs cut off to bring them down to the height of the smallest child with the words “social justice” written on the saw.

“This committee is aware of numerous parents that are reluctant to speak out against CRT in fear of being labeled a racist,” the presentation states. “This committee is aware of numerous IOWCS teachers / staff that are reluctant to speak out against CRT in fear of being labeled a racist and being fired.”

School Board Chairwoman Jackie Carr released the following statement on July 26 in response to the citizens group’s presentation and vote:

“The School Board is 100% opposed to any part of the Critical Race Theory (CRT) being implemented in our schools, and as long as I am on this School Board I will do all I can to see to it that it does not enter our classrooms. CRT separates us by skin color. That alone is discrimination and we have several policies that prohibit any kind of discrimination. IWCS does not promote all of the ideas presented from the Virginia Department of Education website as presented on the citizens group slide presentation, but we will take some of the good in equity to support the needs of all children. While there are things presented in the citizen’s PowerPoint that I have never seen, I will ask questions and I will get answers. I will hold the superintendent accountable in his stand to see that the Critical Race Theory stays out of our schools. We must work together. We ask that parents be involved, support us, and join the IWCS School Board and our administration in a combined effort to keep CRT out of our schools.”

Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton said the group’s presentation contained “numerous inaccuracies and misleading information.”

“I have stated over and over that we are providing professional development to educators for awareness and reflection in the area of equity and inclusion to enable them to better serve a diverse population of students,” Thornton said. “Representatives from the Southern and Central Isle of Wight Citizens Group continue to say that we are going to teach CRT, or are teaching CRT, to our children and staff to be divisive. I say that we are doing just the opposite with an outcome of inclusion and tolerance. They have also stated that even the use of the word ‘equity’ is synonymous with Critical Race Theory.

“Members of this group seem to want to turn this political with their statements about Marxism. I will give a simple example of equity versus equality. During the pandemic, we provided all students a device to enable them to continue their school work. This is an example of equality. Many families did not have internet at home for their children. We then tried to provide resources such as buses with internet and other solutions so that all children would have an opportunity to be successful. This is an example of equity. So are providing facility modifications, such as wheelchair ramps, or text modifications, such as larger text for students with visual limitations. We are already implementing measures such as these for designated populations. We want to provide the accommodations necessary to give EVERY student an opportunity to succeed.

“I am not going to allow the misconceptions of a few members of the community keep us from our continued efforts to provide resources that may assist us in closing the achievement gap and the gap in the discipline data found with minority students and students with disabilities.”

As an example of the “misleading information” he said the group’s presentation contained, Thornton referred to a slide that claimed Isle of Wight staff had undergone training on “becoming an antiracist” based on a Freedom of Information Act request to Isle of Wight County Schools pertaining to Jones’ emails.

This training “was not training conducted by IWCS,” Thornton said, but rather was a session presented to participants in the Virginia is for Learners Innovation Network through the Department of Education.

“IWCS had a team of 10 individuals participating in the network, which began in January 2020,” Thornton said. “This session was held in November 2020 for the VALIN group.”

Jones wasn’t hired until January 2021, he noted.

“She did NOT attend this session, she did NOT conduct this training, she did NOT share this with IWCS employees,” Thornton said. “A participant shared the PowerPoint with Mrs. Jones in January as an FYI … For a group highlighting ‘transparency,’ they have been less than transparent by combining information from multiple sources and passing it off as IWCS material.”

Two other citizens groups — the Isle of Wight Citizens Association and the Carrollton Civic League — have scheduled their own discussions on CRT for a joint meeting at the Smithfield branch of Blackwater Regional Library on Aug. 9 at 6:30 p.m.