Central York race curriculum appears dead following school board criticism

More than 1,000 participate in the York Black Lives Matter Peaceful Protest in York City, Tuesday, June 2, 2020. It would be the second day of larger scale protests in the city following the death of George Floyd, a Minnesota man who died in police custody on May 25. Dawn J. Sagert photo

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A controversial Central York pilot curriculum that included resources supporting the Black Lives Matter movement appears likely to die on the school board's table.

Board President Jane Johnson said on Monday that the social studies pilot, which the board had tabled in August over disagreements with its teachings on white privilege, would remain there until further notice.

Without approval, the district will continue with curriculum approved last year.

A heated discussion on the topic was renewed Monday when Superintendent Michael Snell sought to dispel misinformation, which had generated more than 100 public comments on Aug. 17.

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“The district is not asking the board to adopt the Black Lives Matter curriculum, a Marxist curriculum or anything other than a curriculum based on state standards," he said.

District officials did not explicitly state what the controversial reading materials on the list were but noted a lot of them supported Black Lives Matter teachings — which draw from ideas in The 1619 Project.

The New York Times Magazine series won a Pulitzer Prize this year and has garnered substantial criticism from conservatives for its reframing of U.S. history to begin with the first enslaved Africans arriving on Virginia soil.

The district's diversity committee also put out a lengthy list of resources Aug. 25 that consisted mostly of books and links to anti-racist materials.

The reading materials deemed controversial by some board members were not part of the curriculum, Snell said, but rather part of a supplemental list devised by the district's diversity committee after the curriculum was already completed. The curriculum subcommittee that put together the list will be renamed to avoid confusion, he said.

But board member Vicki Guth, one of two board members who had questioned the curriculum last month, was not buying it. 

Vickie Guth

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"We know there is a difference between what we can write in curriculum and what actually happens in the classroom," she said.

Changing the name of the committee doesn't mean anything if its members are choosing resources for teachers to consider. Materials sanctioned by the district send a message of what should be conveyed to students, she said.

Several board members said even if they are just resources attached to the curriculum, they should be vetted by the public. And residents have been largely against these materials.

In about a dozen more public comments read Monday, residents said the resources aim to revise history to paint whites and America in a bad light and sow division between races by saying one race is more privileged than another.

Board member Veronica Gemma — who along with Guth had been outspoken in her opposition to the materials last month — asked why Snell has refused her request to release the resource list.

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

Snell said he would not use the district’s internal messaging system to send it to thousands — many of whom probably don’t care about the issue. He also said it's a best practice for the board to act as a whole rather than give directives as individuals.

"Are we going to get to a point where the community approves the curriculum?" he added. "That’s not the role of the community; that's the role of the board."

Guth and Gemma also took issue with Snell for a districtwide statement following August's school board meeting, which, they said, portrayed them as having made statements rather than raising questions about the curriculum. The district also did not remove hateful comments about them on the district website, they said.

"I was called a racist. I was called a bigot," Gemma said. "My counterpart Miss Guth and I were called Klan sisters."

Several board members agreed with residents who said the resources should be more diverse — not just dealing with Black and white issues — although one resident noted no resource should be eliminated because it clashes with personal beliefs on the board.

"If other people disagree with our position, or my position, that’s fine," Guth said of sharing opinions on the board. "I think it’s good that it gets aired and we get an opportunity to discuss things."

Snell agreed to include the list of resources on the website.