School boards and critical race theory: Race and rage set school board meetings in motion to the dismay of students

“I do not know about you, but I do not want Marxist blood in this country,” he said, creating widespread applause.

“I am concerned that children are being taught theories, ideologies that will separate them and separate them from each other,” Russo told CNN in an interview. “I’m concerned about our freedom.”

Russo, a 68-year-old retiree, has no children in the school district.

Resident Bob Russo said he was not worried about himself, but about the children who may not have the freedoms he grew up with.

“I love the kids, even though I don’t know them,” Russo said. “I just want to see them have a happy life, to be able to pursue happiness in the same way that I was able to. It’s more a national issue, that’s my concern. And I’m just doing a little bit, as I can do. “

Russo was not alone. Mladen Chargin also has no children in the school system, but says that as a taxpayer he is interested in what is going on.

“The only purpose,” Chargin says of CRT, “is the division and destruction of the United States. That is the purpose.”

For several months, school board meetings across the country have been targeted with angry protests over masks and vaccines, recently followed by concerns about racialism. Elections have become furious and divisive, and the National School Boards Association has asked for help from the federal government in investigating threats.

Douglas School District Superintendent Keith Lewis told the audience that CRT was not part of the elementary school curriculum.

The crowd at the busy town hall applauded speakers speaking against CRT teaching.

It did not mean much to a non-resident of Douglas County, Adam Laxalt. A former Nevada Attorney General who now wants to represent the state in the U.S. Senate, Laxalt has grasped the national GOP strategy of clashing with Democrats on cultural issues. This appearance on the school board of this small town would be no different.

“I urge this board to permanently ban critical race theory and all its appendages,” Laxalt said at the board meeting to loud applause from the crowd.

Children try to educate the adults

The adults’ behavior this night – and for many months in the majority of 50,000 white communities on the shores of Lake Tahoe – has been astonishing to see, says Jacob Lewis, 16, who is not related to the superintendent and 17-year-old Sydney. Hastings and Kimora Whitacre. All are students at Douglas High School.

“I think sometimes people misinterpret the discussion of race issues to be critical race theory,” said Hastings, a senior.

“I feel like they do not understand that our school does not even have CRT,” said Lewis, a junior. “They’re arguing for something we do not even have.”

At Douglas High School, from left: Kimora Whitacre, Jacob Lewis, teacher Jim Tucker and Sydney Hastings.  Students say the educational focus should be elsewhere than at CRT.

Whitacre, a senior, listened to one of the school’s meetings via the public Zoom link. She did not recognize any of the speakers who complained to the school board as parents. But she knows what anger did to her teachers.

“You can see the wear and tear it’s taking on our administrators,” Whitacre said. “They’re just trying to educate us. That’s where I’m disappointed. We’re just trying to learn.”

Whitacre says she also felt the impact, especially when anti-mask protesters were on the sidewalk outside her school. “There have been times when I have driven through this city and been scared because of protests going on,” she said.

“This is a good community,” Hastings said. “That’s why it’s disappointing to hear about people threatening violence who get aggressive at these meetings, because I really think that’s a minority.”

The three students say anger at school board meetings over masks, vaccines and CRT overshadows the more significant problems the district faces – lack of substitute teachers, emotional struggles to return to school and the persistent fear of school closures.

Douglas High has had anti-mask protests on the sidewalk outside the school, students say.

“I try to balance everything that’s on my plate,” Lewis said as he explained how he juggles the stress of athletics, homework and advanced placement exams. “I feel like I’m running a 5K since I had barely gone last year because of Covid. It was a very different time.”

Hastings agreed. “It’s been some really tough years because of the pandemic and just the amount of social strife and political division going on in our country right now,” she said.

National politics robs local issues

Superintendent Lewis helped organize the town halls so the board could hear directly from people about their concerns. But he wished there was less talk about CRT and more passion for helping students directly.

“It has taken the eye off of what we are really trying hard to do and that is to educate our students and give them a good learning environment,” he said. We spend a lot of time and energy on problems that do not help. ”

Superintendent Keith Lewis told the audience at the meeting that CRT was not taught in Douglas County public schools.

Douglas County schools rank their test scores in the top 20% of public schools in Nevada and have a graduation in the top 5% of the state.

But it has been difficult to find substitute teachers and deal with students’ social and emotional learning after the interruption of the pandemic and virtual schooling, teachers said.

“The most important thing we are dealing with now is social, emotional learning and getting students equipped to deal with what they have in front of them and all the expectations that society has imposed on them,” says Douglas High School. English teacher. said Jim Tucker. “It’s never been harder to be a teenager.”

Few at City Hall raised those concerns.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there from people who have never been to any of our schools, who have never talked to any of our teachers, who have never asked questions to the district. They hear things, and they make assumptions. , “Superintendent said Lewis.

The fear and anger at school board meetings in Douglas County resonates around the country.

Shouts, threats, negative billboards and an influx of cash.  This year's school board race is like no other
In Central Florida, a woman wearing a Stars and Stripes T-shirt with the words “Free America” ​​told a school board meeting in Brevard County that children were brainwashed by a CRT-powered public education system. “We need to come together to pull our children out of these government camps and not let them socially condition them anymore because our children have a voice.”
In West Bend, Wisconsin, a woman who spoke for the school board called CRT “divisive, biased, radically leaving Marxism designed to further alienate our American children from each other.”

These school board debates are intensified in early campaigns from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt as national Republicans focus on cultural issues to rally conservative voters.

In Virginia’s gubernatorial race, GOP candidate Glenn Youngkin has done what he calls parental rights, the key to his campaign, focusing earlier this month on the CRT at a convention in Culpeper, Virginia.

“We’ve seen parents say, ‘Tell us what material is being used in the classroom and library, just tell us so we can choose whether we want it in our children’s lives or not.’ “Guess what? Parents have a fundamental right to be involved in their children’s education,” Youngkin said. “We will stand up for the parents. We will stand up for the students. And we will stand up for so many teachers who have just asked for help.”

Rage reaches Congress and is likely to continue

Laxalt, who wants voters to make him the Republican candidate to oppose Democratic incumbent Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, struck a similar tone back in Douglas County.

GOP Senate hopeful Adam Laxalt campaigned at the school board meeting and told parents he would support them.

“It’s important to stand up for our children today and in the days to come,” Laxalt told the school board and audience. When he said the country faced a “legitimate, existential threat to our country’s future,” Laxalt called the CRT “inherently racist and oppressive.”

He said, “We will not let these people take our children. We will not let them indoctrinate them. We will not let them poison our children with this rhetoric. We will stand up for them and I will be right there with you! “

Hostility at school board meetings across the country has even been discussed in Congress.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland was before the Senate Judiciary Committee when he addressed a memo asking federal agents to consult with local law enforcement to assess threats. At that meeting, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas defended a parent who gave a Nazi salute to school board officials.

The fact that once ordinary school board meetings are now being discussed in the Senate judiciary shows the national scope of this cultural issue. And that’s one of the reasons why anger is unlikely to subside until after the mid-term period of 2022.

Douglas High School students experience both demoralizing and poor modeling for children in public schools.

“We should listen to each other instead of fighting and understanding how the other person thinks,” Jacob Lewis said. “And more importantly, why they think that way and listen to their argument. The adults are supposed to be our role models.”

CNN’s Martha Shade contributed to this story.

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