Equity project draws backlash in Grand Blanc school district

GRAND BLANC — School officials say they’re simply trying to understand the unique needs of individual students through the equity project, but some in the community say there’s something more sinister in the initiative.

“I asked myself, ‘Why has Grand Blanc schools adopted Marxist and clearly racist ideals?’” said parent Renee Ray.

The public outcry comes after the district’s Equity Team presented their progress to the Board of Education on May 24. According to the district website, the team seeks to “create and sustain equity through inclusivity and accessibility, dignified policies and procedures, opportunities for students to actualize their own unique genius, exemplary models of character and judgment.”

Additional information is available at www.gbcs.org/domain/2253.

Ray and others say there’s more to it, and they believe it stems from initiatives like Critical Race Theory and the 1619 Project, which she said the district implements.

According to the American Bar Association, CRT “critiques how the social construction of race and institutionalized racism perpetuate a racial caste system that relegates people of color to the bottom tiers.”

The 1619 Project, which has drawn criticism from both sides of the political spectrum, seeks to “reframe American history by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 (the year the first slave ship arrived on American soil) as our nation’s birth year,” according to Jake Silverstein, editor of the New York Times Magazine, the publication that first broached the subject. “Doing so would position “the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a country,” Silverstein wrote.

Ray, addressing the school board at the June 7 meeting, said, “The crux of the theory is that white people are complicit in perpetuating systemic racism, regardless of their thoughts or actions.”

“Part of the remedy, according to some proponents of theory, is an unspecified period of reverse discrimination to smash entrenched white supremacist institutions,” Ray said.

By teaching such theory, “Grand Blanc schools have abandoned its responsibility to educate in a fair and equitable way,” she said, adding that “since Grand Blanc has decided to defund equality, maybe it’s time to defund the public schools by de-enrolling our children.”

Superintendent Clarence Garner, who spoke prior to Ray addressing the board, said he has received multiple emails and comments from the community since the May 24 Equity Team presentation.

He said the team’s work is about providing support for deficiencies, and it stems from the five-year strategic plan the district adopted in 2018, but the core ideals reach as far back as the 1970s.

“This particular action plan … is called culturally-responsive teaching,” Garner said.

Reading from the goal statement, Garner said, “All staff will develop the skills to form authentic relationships with students in order to bridge the gap between culture and instruction.”

The basic tenets of the program have been part of the Grand Blanc schools for some 40 years, and can be found in the World of Difference project the district adopted back in the 1980s, he said.

Then and now, the work has been about awareness of the students and the community “to better serve and prepare our young people to be successful in a global economy,” Garner said.

“This work has nothing, and I want to be clear about this, nothing to do with Critical Race Theory or the 1619 Project,” he said. “Nothing. You’re not going to find it. It’s not there. For someone to make the assumption or leap that that’s what we’re doing, is false. It’s not true.”

Garner said he is disappointed that some have chosen to politicize the district’s efforts to meet individual students where they are and prepare them for success after high school.

He added that he also has heard comments about the district’s hiring process.

“We will continue to operate as we have in the past, meaning we will hire the most qualified candidates regardless of race or ethnicity,” he said.

“That’s it. Period. If you’re here to talk about Critical Race Theory or the 1619 Project, you’re simply in the wrong meeting,” he said.

School board member Amy Facchinello, however, has some concerns.

Facchinello asked about the amount of time the Equity Team members dedicate to the project every week, and the source of funding for the $3,500 stipend they receive. Garner explained that the funding comes from the district’s general fund, which is “no different than any other program we do.”

She also remarked about the teaching resources posted on the district’s website.

“I found some to be quite interesting, to say the least,” Facchinello said. “Everybody should take a look at these links,” she said. “If it makes you cringe, or squirm in your seat, or have a frowny face, maybe we might want to remove it and not have those as teaching resources.”

Valerie Belill-Lemke, an educator and parent in the Grand Blanc district, offered some examples of real-life equity initiatives including the cross-campus shuttle that transports students with physical differences or injuries, Individual Education Program plans for students who have cognitive, physical or emotional differences, the food closet, funding for students who cannot afford to take AP or SAT tests and more.

“Last week, a number of very upset people referred to the educators of Grand Blanc as communists because we value the diversity of our students and we value the notion that we have to be able to adopt our curriculum and instruction to meet their diverse needs,” Belill-Lemke said.