Some parents in the Lodi School District are worried about how racial and political issues are being taught.
In all, there were five speakers from the public who talked at the school board meeting on Monday, July 12. A few expressed concerns about critical race theory (CRT) seeping into instruction, with one parent saying others were scared to speak up, fearing retaliation from teachers and administrators.
“People are afraid to come to you and talk,” said Jack Tatzel.
Tatzel talked first about the district’s equity program, saying that he discussed the matter with District Administrator Vince Breunig and School Board President H. Adam Steinberg. Tatzel said he did not believe the equity program was initiated without school board knowledge. However, Tatzel also said he thought it was started without notifying parents or the public.
Tatzel spoke on a series of alleged incidents, reported to him from another family, that he felt showed either political or racial bias in the classroom. He said one elementary student came home and asked if there were any good white men in history.
“What’s being taught in that classroom?” asked Tatzel.
On another occasion, Tatzel talked of a family’s allegation that in a lesson on groupthink – a psychological phenomenon where a consensus is reached by a group of individuals without critical reasoning – only two examples were given: Nazis and the Holocaust, and supporters of former President Trump.
“Like the guy or not, half the families in the district supported Trump,” said Tatzel. “And the comparison, or putting in the same bucket, with the Nazis, who murdered 11 million women and children and men in the same bucket with Trump supporters alienated half of the kids in that class and half the families in the district. So much for making people feel welcome at school.”
Tatzel spoke of an accusation of an unnamed high school teacher bashing capitalism in the classroom last year, with students having to give presentations related to readings on what’s bad about capitalism. Tatzel said when the teacher spoke on the positives about capitalism gleaned from the source material, that educator repeatedly said they weren’t true, he said.
Tatzel also talked of a middle school teacher telling students they were privileged because they were white. Tatzel added, “To me, that’s racist. Sorry, folks. To me, that’s racist.” He explained that he believes this is what critical race theory expounds and called it “divisive.”
Lastly, Tatzel claimed that in the run-up to the 2016 election, a banner in the elementary school showing the timeline of the formation of political parties in the U.S. didn’t include that the Republican party was formed to oppose slavery.
“No other teacher felt comfortable saying anything. Where was the principal?” said Tatzel.
Tatzel said that the family he was referring to met and decided it was too dangerous for the parent to present these incidents. He said other families have also come to the group he represented and said they are afraid to come forward. Tatzel wondered how many teachers would also like to speak up on the matter.
“We think we have a significant problem,” said Tatzel, who said critical race theory is stagnating the progress the country has made in eliminating racism.
Steinberg said the incidents Tatzel mentioned should be reported to the district administrator.
Heather Schilling, a parent of two students in the district, talked about transparency.
“There is a significant mistrust between the board, administration and parents,” said Schilling. One example she cited was the board voting unanimously to keep the schools closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, even though an “overwhelming” majority wanted them kept open.
Another example, said Schilling, was the initiation of the district’s equity program that was passed last fall without parent input or a board vote. She said the district administrator advised that equity is not the same as critical race theory. Schilling countered with the examples that Tatzel mentioned.
“I don’t know how many other examples there are out there, and if there are people who are afraid to submit their examples or know what to do with them, or even have kids who are too young to understand the things they are hearing, and just take it at face value and that scares me,” said Schilling.
Schilling referred to an open records request to see if CRT ideology was being taught. It asked for any emails in a 12-month period that contained the words “supremacy,” “racism” or “privilege.” She said the expectation was that there would be about 50 but found out there were 16,000 emails that referenced those words.
Schilling said the request was adjusted to see only emails of those in leadership positions and directors of curriculum, as the number was cut to 2,500. Those who made the request were allegedly told there was a significant cost for releasing the emails that must be paid by the parent. A request for a waiver due to public interest was reportedly denied, according to Schilling.
Costs, according to Schilling, were $2,000 to $3,000 for the 16,000 emails, which was reduced to $400 for the 2,500 emails. Schilling asked for the release of those records, free of charge, for the sake of transparency and the public interest.
“I would love more than anything to find that critical race theory is not being taught in the classrooms. That is my sincere hope, and I remain cautiously optimistic, but until we see those emails, we don’t know,” said Schilling.
Schilling said the National Education Association is encouraging the continued teaching of CRT.
“It’s one thing to teach kids about past injustices, but it’s another to place labels and expectations on people based on their race and gender, and force kids to see differences that may not even exist,” said Schilling, who explained this causes division of groups and does not promote inclusion or unity.
Schilling wants teachers to stay neutral on controversial issues. She said students are being taught to be activists and that teachers should leave their personal biases out of the classroom.
Judy Molner said she and her family moved away from Madison to get away from equity and division among classes.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Janel Anderson, who has lived in Lodi for 22 years and is a former teacher in the district, advocated for staff and the administration to “maintain the courageous stance” it has shown regarding equity.
“Listening to the people speak tonight, it’s hard,” said Anderson. “It’s hard to hear. It’s hard to hear people’s fear. It’s hard to hear people’s anger and mistrust, especially for someone who was a teacher for a really long time, especially as a teacher who taught really tough subjects.”
Anderson said that a “… crazy, scary narrative” regarding CRT is being sold to people in a “cynical way” by politically motivated entities. She also said she didn’t believe that the speakers at the July 12 board meeting were politically motivated and that she thought they had the best interests of students in mind.
However, Anderson also said she believed it is a minority of people in the community who are against what the district is doing in the area of equity and that thousands more feel otherwise.
Anderson said she is calling on those to speak out in support, that the district has students of color and LBGTQ kids, and she said, “They need us to speak for them.”
Anderson talked about when she first had a student of color in her class and had to be thoughtful about how she taught about civil rights.
Anderson also asked that people in the community have respectful conversations about the issue during backyard campfires and other such moments.
“I support those who are trying to build an equitable school,” said Anderson.