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Conservative parents, Andy Harris push against critical race theory in schools

EASTON — As tensions rise over mask mandates in Maryland public schools, some conservative parents are also raising concerns about critical race theory making its way into the curriculum this year.

For its proponents (including some local parents and civil rights advocates), critical race theory is a way of understanding how racism and racial inequality are systemic and embedded in various American institutions. However, its opponents argue that it’s divisive and segregates individuals into two categories: oppressors and victims.

The issue has also drawn the attention of U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, a conservative Republican representing the Eastern Shore.

In Talbot County, parents brought their comments about the controversial critical race theory (CRT) to county board of education and county council meetings, but say they haven’t received much of a response from school administration.

Bruce Corley, a Talbot County parent with two children, told the Talbot County Board of Education on August 11 that he and his wife were “infuriated” after learning that the board had used over $500,000 of taxpayer money on critical race theory training in county public schools.

In a July 27 interview with The Star Democrat, Talbot County Public Schools superintendent Dr. Kelly Griffith acknowledged that the school district had used the Pacific Educational Group in the past for diversity and equity training, but no longer has a contract with the company. Now, the school district has its own internal training through older, experienced and trained educators. Griffith also explained that the contract with the group was executed through a state department grant.

“We used them to help us do beyond diversity training, and it did encourage us to have courageous conversations examining race and racial bias and implicit bias,” Griffith said.

In his comments to the board, Corley said that he was “disgusted” with critical race theory indoctrination in Talbot County schools. He cited a lack of control, discipline and order from administrators at Easton Middle School as the main reason he pulled his younger son out of the public school system and into private school. However, Corley chose to leave his older son in public school at Easton High, saying that his son wasn’t afraid to speak out against the “CRT indoctrination nonsense.”

Corley also brought up concerns with the high school embedding CRT teachings into some of their classes through unauthorized book choices. According to Corley, his older son’s teacher chose to use “The Hate U Give” in place of “The Lord of the Flies,” a county-authorized book, in her class.

“The Hate U Give” is a novel inspired by real-life events about a young black girl witnessing a white police officer shoot her childhood best friend and the fallout afterward. The book was named one of the most challenged books of 2020 by The Washington Post for profanity and promoting an anti-police message.

Corley and his wife had a meeting with the school’s principal, who refused to let the teacher from using the book in her classes that year. However, the principal told Corley that she would convene a committee to review the book for future use at Easton High.

At the August 11 board of education meeting, Easton resident Clive Ewing asked board members why they hadn’t responded to his questions on the school district’s racial equity training. Ewing stated that it had been weeks since he’d contacted the superintendent and the board with his concerns, and he hadn’t yet received a meaningful response other than an offer to meet.

Ewing reread his questions to the board in person, first asking if the schools would continue to proceed with racial equity sessions for their teachers. He then questioned if the board would allow public access to those sessions, either live or via video.

“If yes, send us that information,” Ewing said. “If no, why not? What’s the big secret?”

Ewing also inquired about the school district’s definition of racial equity, pointing out that the school chose to provide racial equity training, not educational equity training.

“I and others have spoken directly to current and previous teachers that are unhappy with the school’s emphasis on race; simply because of these teachers’ skin color, they have felt that they had to be apologetic to others who happen to have a different race,” Ewing said. “These are our teachers; some are here now, some have left, in part because of that.”

Griffith told The Star Democrat that training in the school district is to help teachers to understand their own racial consciousness and different perspectives of other teachers in the county. In addition to beyond diversity training to recognize implicit bias, during training, teachers in Talbot County schools examine the intersection of the achievement gap that exists in various racial groups to better understand effective instructional strategies to close that gap, she said.

“We are very conscious that we have a multicultural community and we want to make sure that we’re teaching each child the way they need to be taught and we’re very conscious of doing that,” she said. “We do teach Maryland state standards; we do not teach theories, we do not teach philosophy.”

Griffith also stressed that teachers in Talbot County Public Schools are not trying to indoctrinate anyone; they’re simply trying to help students find good resources so that they know the true facts behind whatever decision they make or path they take.

“We want to make sure that our kids really do know their history, but we learn from it and we move forward,” she said.

Proponents of instruction about race and racism in America say it is needed when looking at historical issues such as slavery, segregation, colonialism and mistreatments of Native Americans, immigrants and African Americans. They also contend that critical race theory and similar instruction models are needed to look at contemporary economic, social and legal inequalities. Those can include racial and class divisions and an inequities in the legal system.

Race and class are very salient historical and contemporary issues on the Eastern Shore with its history of slavery and segregation as well as the contemporary Black Lives Matter movement that burgeoned after the police killing of George Floyd last year and fights over the Talbot Boys Confederate statues in Easton.

Critical race theory has also come up as a topic of discussion in Dorchester County Public Schools. U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican representing Maryland’s First Congressional District, addressed the topic at the Dorchester County Board of Education meeting on August 19, saying critical race theory is a “Marxist” idea that divides the nation.

Harris argued that instead of teaching young students to be colorblind to others’ race and treating everyone similarly, critical race theory is emphasizing and basing everything on race. He also stated that the theory teaches students to hate America because it’s “systemically racist.”

CRT has become a favorite target of conservative, pro-Trump members of Congress and commentators.

“I suggest that if you want to see what real oppression is, turn on the TV and look at what’s going on in Afghanistan and what’s going to happen to the education system (there),” Harris said. “That’s real oppression, not what happens in the United States here.”

Natalie Jones is a reporter at The Star Democrat in Easton covering crime, health, education and Talbot County Council. You can reach her with questions, comments or tips at njones@chespub.com.


The coolest Stone: Charlie Watts' lasting ties to the Shore

EASTON — One two three four. Emphasize the two and the four. This is the heartbeat of rock and roll. We lost Charlie Watts, a rock icon, on Aug. 24. The Rolling Stones drummer died at age 80 — with some lasting connections to the Eastern Shore.

Watts had the ability to punctuate just enough to send the music forward — but he never took a drum solo. His drumming heroes came from the jazz world like Max Roach. There was another jazz lion who came out of the West Coast Jazz movement named Stan Levey. There were other members like Chet Baker, Dave Brubeck and Stan Getz. When Levey and Watts got together, they didn’t talk about the world famous Stones. They connected over obscure percussion greats. He looked up to Levey who was integral in the early development of Bebop. He played with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and worked the scene on 52nd street in New York. Levey passed in 2005.

Watts was not about flash. There was enough of that up front with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. He was steady on the pulse with Richards.

Think of your favorite Rolling Stones album. “Sticky Fingers”, Exile on “Main Street” or maybe “Some Girls.” Then think of your favorite Stones song. “Jumping Jack Flash”, “Start Me Up” or “Shattered”. These musicians create the soundtrack of our lives. Watts played with economy and precision on all of these tracks. It is really more about what he chooses not to play that makes his playing so compelling. For fun listen to one of those classics and focus on Watts’ style — spare, clean and very accurate.

There is an Easton connection with Watts. Stan Levey’s son is bass player and radiologist Chris Levey, M.D. He played session gigs in the seventies. He played with a couple of guys from The Doors and with Burt Bacharach. He and his wife Kate have gotten surprised with VIP treatment from Watts when they attended Rolling Stones concerts. Visiting the green room, back stage, photos were all part of the kind treatment they have gotten from Watts.

“His dressing room is all arranged like an old speak easy. He’s got jazz playing and the lights are low and there are candles. He has practice pads and old books about jazz and picture books of old jazz people. We would always spend time with him before the show in his dressing room,” said Chris.

“I finally got to tag along with Chris and Kate. I knew for years they would go whenever the Rolling Stones were in town to see Charlie. The last time in 2019, I got invited. It was the experience of a lifetime. We were back stage and got to see behind the scenes. We went on the stage and looked at Charlie’s drum kit. We spent an hour talking about music. It wasn’t about the Rolling Stones it was about Chris’ dad and the relationship they had with music,” said Suzy Moore. The show was at FedEx field.

“It is amazing to sit with a legend, who is so low key and classy,” said Moore.

Moore is artistic director at the Avalon Theatre in downtown Easton. She said Watts kept the tempo to her life.

Chris Levey said Watts always saw himself as a jazz drummer.

“My dad was one of his idols because he considers himself more of a jazz drummer than a rock drummer. Everyone always refers to him as an English gentleman. Always well dressed, in a suit. He has no cell phone. He hasn’t driven for decades. He has a zillion cars. He has no computer,” said Chris.

With his fondness for suits and chill demeanor, Watts was a personality contrast to the Stones’ frontmen Jagger and Richards — poster kids for the rock and roll lifestyle.

“My dad gave Charlie a drum because Charlie has this huge drum museum. He gave him one of his favorite snare drums,” said Levey. “He certainly was an anchor for that group and was an anchor for the soundtrack of us all growing up. He was an example of how drummers should be steady and not try to be the center of attention.


Local_news
Rotary Club of Easton welcomes new members

EASTON — The Rotary Club of Easton inducted three new members on Thursday, Aug. 26, as the group continues to celebrate its 100th anniversary.

Rev. Elmer Davis Jr., who served on the Easton Town Council along with Building African American Minds Inc Executive Director Dina Daly and Andre Dell Gibson Jr. were welcomed into the local Rotary at a luncheon at the Italian restaurant Scossa.

“We are excited to have Rotary fully represent the rich fabric and tapestry of our community,” said Reza Jafari, the newly installed president the Easton Rotary.

Davis has worn many hats including serving as a police lieutenant in Salisbury, a Methodist pastor, and Harley Davidson lover. He is the District Superintendent of the United Methodist Church. He oversees 130 churches.

Davis has also served on the Easton Town Council since 2020. “I just want to be part of an organization that helps out the community,” said Davis.

Dina Daly, executive director of BAAM, was another inductee. She is an active member of Easton’s community and serves on Chesapeake College’s multicultural advisory committee. She said she was honored to be inducted and would do her best.

Andre Dell Gibson Jr. serves as a sergeant in the U.S Army Reserves and works for the Department of Defense.

Gibson said he grew up in Talbot County and is excited to serve. He is the owner of Shore Awareness Self Defense and Awareness Security.

Upon acceptance they were given Rotary pins to wear.

Kendrick Daly was inducted in the Rotary Club of Easton on Aug. 19 by past president John Flohr. He is the athletic center director at BAAM.

The Easton Rotary’s membership efforts aim to be more representative of the local community. “Rotary is opening their arms and attracting new, more diverse talent.” said Lonnie Green, a board member.


The TCPS Education Foundation and Easton Utilities have been named District Partners of the Year by Talbot County schools. Pictured (left to right) are Berenice Orellana, Kelly Griffith, Jeremy Hillyard, Mary Wheeler, Michael Garman, Barry Sabo, Claire Tyndall, David Short, Anderson Watson, Michael Fisher, Laura Heikes. (Story on A8)

Talbot schools honor community partners


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