Critical Race Theory (CRT) raised its controversial head at the Monday meeting of the Littlestown Area School District (LASD) Board of Supervisors. At issue is the “Reveal Math” program from textbook publisher McGraw Hill, a proposed elementary math curriculum that includes social-emotional learning (SEL) goals.
According to the McGraw Hill website, Reveal Math is designed to help all students learn by creating a sense of curiosity about math and having students develop social skills by working together to solve problems.
The curriculum committee is reviewing the program for potential adoption this fall.
“This is opening the door to who wants SEL in our math program,” said LASD Board member Jeanne Ewen. And board member Nicki Kenny agreed. “This is just re-packaged critical race theory,” she said.
Board member Jennifer McLay disagreed. “As an elementary school teacher, you’re also trying to teach social skills,” she said, recalling her early education as a kindergartener in the early ’70s. “You were taught social skills as well, back in the day. SEL is not all critical race theory. It’s not.”
Board vice-president Yancy Unger said he appreciated the passionate discourse and agreed that more research on this particular math program was needed. He invited board members to attend the next curriculum work session, to be held on March 7, to see a demonstration of the Reveal Math program, including its SEL components.
During the public comment section of the meeting, parent Janell Ressler first raised the question of how SEL contributed to the study of math. “This has no place in math,” she said. “Why do students need to incorporate their feelings when learning to solve math problems?” Ressler urged the board to say ‘no’ to the new program.
LASD Superintendent Chris Bigger said the proposed math program was placed on the agenda at the request of the board to foster transparency. “It’s all part of the process,” he added.
In other board business, there was some concern over how far the LASD discipline arm could reach when students are away from school or school-sponsored activities, for instance when they post on social media. The first reading of a new policy was approved, but Kenny said it needs to be more specific.
Currently under revision, the policy states that off-campus student conduct could be subject to school discipline if it threatens school staff or students, interferes with the school environment, or the rights of students and staff.
“I just feel that there is a time when a kid leaves campus that the school is not the authority,” said Kenny. She believes the policy should be rewritten to be less ambiguous.
“It is not a clear line,” Superintendent Bigger agreed. “The contextual circumstances determine how far a school can reach into a situation outside school.” He later said that when negative comments are made on social media by a student or students, parents often ask the school to get involved. The school advises that the issue should be brought to the parents or the police if it does not threaten or interrupt the ordinary course of the school day.
Bigger discussed the recent state court decision that the state’s school funding formula is unfair because it favors wealthier districts over less affluent ones. “It will be really interesting to see how legislators try to solve this problem,” he said, adding that the solution does not necessarily have to be financial.
“We (LASD) don’t meet a ‘high needs’ district by definition. We have low needs in comparison to lots of other schools.” He added that some of the proposals could end up costing districts like LASD. “Hopefully, they do not implement a proposal like that, where we would lose money up front to catch up other districts’ financial situations.”
Bigger praised the first focus group meeting established to look at several models of proposed school calendars for the district. The 25-member group is made up of school employees and community members. “I’m very excited about the participation. We had to turn people away.” He said there would be at least four or five more meetings before reaching a consensus. The new calendar will be announced in the fall.
Bigger brought the meeting participants up to date with plans for school renovations. “I just want to clarify one last time, our base bid is the 1960 section gets renovated in the high school, and the new wing is put on to accommodate more students in the building and a new cafeteria. Asked how further renovation would be added beyond those stated, Bigger said the board would make those decisions.
Judith Cameron Seniura is a freelance reporter. She began her journalism career in the early ‘70s and has written for newspapers, magazines, and other media in Ontario, Canada, Alaska, Michigan, Nebraska, San Antonio, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.