2022 School Board Candidate Q&A: CRT and SEL

Lowell’s First Look met individually with all 8 candidates running for a position on the School Board for Lowell Area Schools, and who will appear on the ballot on Tuesday, November 8, 2022.  There are three seats up for election by voters. In addition to our interview, we sent each candidate the same set of questions. In the weeks leading up to the election, we will bring you responses to the questions we asked in addition to a candidate profile. Answers are published verbatim and have not been edited. We asked candidates to keep their responses to around 200 words.

What is your understanding of critical race theory and social-emotional learning? To the best of your knowledge, are either incorporated in Lowell schools right now? And if not, should they be?

(Note from the Editor: Lowell Area Schools does not currently teach CRT or have a specified SEL curriculum in place although SEL is  incorporated in some school practices. More information is available in this document from LAS.)

Jared Blough
Critical Race Theory is the teaching of a very divided time in this country and it’s very offensive to many. Social Emotional learning is a slower paced teaching curriculum, LAS already offers those classes. To my knowledge neither of the subjects have been incorporated into LAS and I don’t believe they should be.

Jessica Curtis
Critical Race Theory is not incorporated within Lowell Area Schools. Curriculum taught in our schools is based on identified state standards. 

Lowell Area Schools uses a Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) model to reflect on behavior, academics, and social/emotional learning.  We consider universal supports in place that are available for all students.  We also consider potential intervention options for students that display concerns as related to mental health.  Systems are in place in our schools through social workers, counselors, other itinerant staff as well as through child study teams.

Jennifer Dougherty
Critical race theory has been around since the 1970’s and considers that some of the laws and policies in the United States affect people of different races differently. My kids have had very simple classroom discussions regarding race when discussing the Civil War or the Trail of Tears in history classes, but they have never had the in-depth, college level discussions that would be required to address critical race theory. Because critical race theory is a concept considered by legal scholars, it is beyond the scope of a K-12 education.

Social-emotional learning is the development of self-awareness, self-control and interpersonal skills. It teaches students to control their impulses, manage their emotions and to problem solve their way through the difficult situations that life presents. I have not seen evidence of a dedicated SEL curriculum, but my kids have learned about the core values of trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, integrity, fairness and caring. They have learned positive behavior strategies and what is expected of them as part of the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports program. Their teachers have provided lessons as needed about how to deal with conflict, reduce stress and deal with difficult situations. I believe that it is important to give our students the tools they need to manage emotions and impulses. These skills help kids cope individually and improve the learning environment for everyone.

Chris German
This is a question that is super difficult to get an answer to that is under 200 words but I’ll do my best!!

CRT and SEL are two different entities that need to be looked at on their own merits, or lack there of, and then be decided if they should play a part in our children’s curriculum.  My opinion of SEL is that at it’s core it’s not a bad thing.  I feel strongly that schools should be preparing our youth to be successful adults and part of that is knowing how to interact with the world around them both socially and emotionally.  Problems arise when the values that are put into the SEL curriculum don’t mesh with the values that the majority of the families in our district don’t agree with.  As a board member I would need to stay attuned with how much the parents want this as part of our curriculum. 

From the research that I have done so far I am not seeing CRT curriculum in our district currently.  CRT is an idea that I just can’t get behind right now and it would take a lot of convincing for me to be on board with it.     

Kyle Hoff
Critical Race Theory (CRT) has been defined as a movement that attempts to examine social, political, and legal structures and power distribution through the lens of race. Lowell Public Schools has stated that CRT is not currently taught in our schools. However, elements of Critical Theory (the broader scope of CRT) have made their way into most school systems, learning materials, and curriculums around the country in recent years (including some elements of it in Lowell). I believe focusing on this creates more division than it does unity and is not the lens that our students should view themselves, or the world through. I want our schools to focus on the things that unite us as a Lowell community and not on what might divide us. Therefore, I do not support the teaching of CRT in our schools.

Social-Emotional Learning (or SEL) has been defined as an educational method that attempts to foster social and emotional skills within school curriculums, emphasizing social and emotional skills to the same degree as other subjects, such as math, science, and reading. One of the biggest concerns I hear from parents regarding SEL is that it has been used to push certain social agendas on children that many parents in Lowell do not want schools discussing with them, mostly regarding issues around gender and sexual identity. Again, these issues are conversations that are best handled by parents with their kids and should not be pushed by teachers or school officials.

Parker Liu
While preparing for the election, I took some time to deep-dive into both of these concepts. Critical Race Theory or CRT is a high-level topic being discussed and debated in some law schools around the country. Being highly controversial and still hotly debated, the concepts of CRT are not appropriate for any public schools including LAS; the district’s official stance is also the same: CRT is not being taught in our schools and I believe this to be true.

Social-Emotional Learning or SEL, however, is based on treating each student with a holistic approach that considers factors beyond basic comprehension abilities while in the classroom. SEL practices support students by helping to develop the creation of self-identity, exposure to a variety of perspectives, and learning how to discuss complicated topics in a civil manner. SEL is not explicitly taught at LAS but the district is starting to incorporate some of these concepts by addressing mental health and hiring counselors, social workers, and other educational specialists to help address the unique challenges that most of our students will experience at some point in their educational journey. I believe that the students of LAS can benefit from SEL practices when applied with a consistent, evidence-based approach. As a member of the BOE, I would encourage the district to continue to explore the concepts of SEL and look at ways of incorporating its concepts in our classrooms on a regular basis across all levels of learners.

Pat Nugent
Critical race theory and social-emotional learning are buzzwords that have attracted attention over the past few years. Critical race theory is a way of interpreting American culture, history, and institutions through the lens of race and racism and can lead to an unbalanced understanding of the United States. Critical race theory is not taught in Lowell Area Schools. It is not part of our state or local curriculum.  Students need a balanced understanding of our nation, including both highlights and lowlights of American history. Critical race theory is not an appropriate approach for K-12 education in Lowell Area Schools. 

Social-emotional learning is a broad umbrella term that includes many aspects of teaching the student as a whole person. Data show that students’ educational outcomes can be greatly affected by their socio-economic status, mental health status, or family dysfunction. Developing ways to help each student overcome any roadblocks is part of that social-emotional umbrella of strategies. Lowell Schools has a Multi-Tiered System of Support in place through teachers, counselors, social workers, and other staff to work with students who have identified needs.  No one should argue with giving teachers and students social-emotional strategies to help students to be more successful no matter what is in their background.

Calvin Vander Boon (Note: Calvin Vander Boon’s name will appear on the November ballot, but he has notified us that he is withdrawing his candidacy for the LAS school board.)
I am very well versed on Critical Race Theory (CRT) because of my experience as a parent in this district. While some would argue that Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DEI) is different from CRT the authors of both would disagree. DEI and CRT were authored and championed by many of the same individuals and these individuals have stated the only difference is the age of the intended audience. 

DEI has a large presence in this district, a cause that the superintendent (Nate Fowler) has been a driving force behind from the beginning. There has been a deliberate veil of secrecy in LAS regarding the real motives and outcomes of the DEI efforts. This includes open violations of LAS board policies in the creation of “safe spaces” and in the DEI curriculum that every elementary teacher was instructed to follow. The middle school implemented “safe spaces” which are classrooms that students were told they could go to and talk to a teacher about their gender identity and sexual orientation. This is a direct violation of LAS board policy 3213 (h). Lowell elementary administrators were instructed to send (and did send) a list of DEI books to all K-5 teachers to read with students in their classroom and this document also included a link to “Teaching Tolerance Anti-Bias Standards” which is a set of social justice standards which specifically instructs teachers to talk to students starting in kindergarten about topics including their gender identify and sexual orientation. This is a direct violation of LAS board policies 2240 and 2418.

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