Central school board punts on curriculum decision after controversy

Central York's school board voted unanimously Monday to table a vote on a social studies curriculum after two board members took issue with its depictions of race relations, white privilege and police.

About 3½ hours into a meeting — during which the school board nearly swapped its reopening plan for a fully online model — board member Veronica Gemma said Monday was not the time to rush into a curriculum decision and requested time for the board to do more research.

"I want to make it clear that I support diversity and I love and respect all people ... there are simply too many other pressing issues to deal with relating to COVID and opening school," she said.

Graduating twins Maxwell Reeder, left, and Lillian Reeder, right, pose for a photo with school board member Veronica Gemma during the Central York High School graduation ceremony in Springettsbury Township, Friday, July 24, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The decision to punt came a week after Gemma and board member Vicki Guth criticized the proposed curriculum, saying it was too focused on white privilege and racism and failed to acknowledge the value of police officers.

More:Central York board members: Racism curriculum fosters socialism, disrespect for police

Both said was inappropriate to be talking about these issues with children, with Gemma adding that children should not be viewed as “racist."

The curriculum would be tailored to students in grades K-12.

A district statement Aug. 11 stressed comments from individual board members did not reflect the views of the board or district as a whole.

"I think we can all agree that the past week has not been a great representation of the Central York School District," said board member Kyle King, not calling out particular members but urging others to be open to and respectful of opposing dialogue.

"We locally and nationally have become so politically divided," he said. "However, I can’t imagine anyone being opposed to diversity." 

About 470 people were watching the livestream shortly after the start of the meeting at 6:30 p.m.

During a 30-minute public comment period, some members of the public spoke out against Guth and Gemma, saying their comments were evidence of a race problem in the district and a lack of representation for minorities.

Board member Jodi Grothe later pushed back against these accusations, saying the board is all white because that's who the voters chose.

"If you don’t like us, then you don't vote for us," she said. "That's how it works."

However, other residents — and some hailing from outside the district — largely agreed with Guth's claims that the proposed curriculum was tied to politics.

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Vickie Guth

Guth had said the curriculum presented a no-win situation where concepts such as "white privilege" was pitted against "white saviorism," and these topics lead students to socialism and lack of respect for religion or country.

Many residents on Monday called the curriculum pilot Marxism and indoctrination and decried it for its Black Lives Matter ideology — on which they did not agree.

A number of residents said racism was part of history and not something for which students should be made to feel guilty. They said the curriculum set races apart rather than judging people by their character or "the condition of their heart."

Gemma on Monday said she still disagreed with the "infiltration" of these topics in the regular curriculum but said she would consider diversity electives in a number of subjects.

Board members Michael Wagner, Joseph Gothie, Jane Johnson and Guth were supportive of the idea to wait on the vote until more information could be shared about the curriculum and school reopening concerns settled down.

Gothie said it was important to open a dialogue about these issues, and it was wrong for Gemma and Guth to be criticized for it.

The pilot curriculum was a product of the district's diversity committee, which met regularly this summer in response to current events to better prepare a curriculum that allows teachers and students to talk about national issues, officials said last week.

Guth said she had difficulty framing her opinions last week but ultimately wanted to know more about the verbiage and mindset of teachers for this curriculum.

"Nobody wants to say that teachers are not doing the right thing, but the board doesn’t know what (their mindsets are)," she said.

Board member Edwin Speed on Monday asked that all diversity committee meetings be streamed publicly so that more people could weigh in on these issues.

In fact, many residents during public comment had asked simply for a public review period for the curriculum, noting that parents should have input on the decision.

The next school board planning meeting is scheduled for Sept. 14.