Threats against Worthington school board over critical race theory part of campaign against democracy – The Columbus Dispatch
This year, a well-funded, national campaign is working hard to distract public educators and school leaders from their primary task: providing all children, from Youngstown to Bethel, an education that prepares them to flourish, grow and thrive.
That includes learning the truth about the history of race in our country and making sure every child feels like they belong in our public schools.
Local school boards have become the newest battleground for corporate-backed extremists who want to distract us with manufactured controversy meant to divide us.
The result? A handful of zealots making veiled or blatantly violent threats have derailed local school board meetings and shaken up normally sleepy board elections in the Greater Columbus area and across Ohio.
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In Worthington, for example, opponents of the district’s approach to teaching about race and racism sent a letter to a school board member threatening that “we are coming after you,” and protesters gave a Nazi salute as they left a meeting.
In other districts, opponents have followed board members home and targeted the children of residents advocating for racial justice and gender inclusivity. Incidents like these, in Ohio and elsewhere, prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to direct the FBI to explore how best to deal with these threats and intimidation.
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This controversy started in conservative think tanks far from our state in service to right-wing politicians who have no interest in Ohioans other than using us to stoke fear and division.
The campaign to limit discussion of race, gender and other issues in public schools and agencies arrived in Ohio with a bang this summer, when state legislators introduced two bills that would prohibit the honest exploration of hot-button topics, especially how race and racism have shaped our history and the present day.
The Ohio State Board of Education recently repealed a resolution it passed last year to condemn racism and advance equity. The impact at many local school boards may be even worse.
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These anti-democratic efforts are already having a chilling effect on educators and others who want to teach the truth about our history. At their worst, they will punish schools and agencies by withholding funding if they run afoul of vague regulations limiting free speech.
Over 20 years working on education policy and many years as a public school parent, I’ve seen enough to know that rather than shy away from tough discussions, especially on race, policymakers and educators need to embrace them.
For example, K-12 teachers discipline Black and brown students more than their white counterparts and track white students into gifted and advanced courses denied to students of color. Too many policymakers perpetuate a standardized testing system that is better at tracking income levels than aptitude.
Battles on this issue in the state legislature and at the State Board of Education will continue, but right now the most urgent fight is at local school boards.
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The most important thing we can all do is research who is running for our local school boards and vote for those who support an honest education for every child in our communities.
Look for candidates who believe in the need to train educators on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Attend candidate forums and ask questions. Talk to your neighbors.
We cannot let outsiders who don’t care about Ohio destroy our democracy and weaken the education our children receive.
Piet van Lier is a senior researcher at Policy Matters Ohio and a founding member of the Honesty for Ohio Education coalition.