VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Shay Coleman and her husband, Sean-Claude, have three biracial daughters in the Virginia Beach school district. Their impassioned pleas echoed the thoughts of many at Thursday's rally about critical race theory.
“What and how I decide to teach my children about race, how to view themselves and the world is my role, not the schools' and not the state,” said Shay Coleman.
The Colemans, along with other parents in the crowd, believe critical race theory is being taught inside the classrooms.
“I do not consent for anyone to make my multiracial children feel victimized, ashamed, vulnerable, helpless, traumatized and confused,” Shay powerfully shouted to a crowd of more than 100 people.
They fear the academic approach that history professors say looks at how Black people have been discriminated against from the beginning will divide society and households, especially multiracial families.
“It breeds dissension, and it breeds hatred,” said Shay.
Her husband agreed.
“It’s going to be destructive to the friendships in the classroom as well as their family lives,” said Sean-Claude Coleman. “They’re going to be very confused; angry at Mom, angry at Dad.”
Much of the debate centers around what CRT is and when and how students should learn about racism.
School Board Member Carolyn Weems, who believes CRT is being taught in the district, is reintroducing her resolution this fall that will clarify what it is and ensure it will not be taught.
“We can talk about race,” said Weems. “Racism does still exist, but to use the language that some of our books are using, some of our training, some of the material that we’re recommending on our website, it just uses very toxic, divisive language, which is part of critical race theory.”
The Virginia Beach Education Association and Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence argue CRT is not being taught in its schools.
VBEA President Kathleen Slinde told News 3, “We support equal access to education for all children and the policies of the school division that address issues of equity.”
Slinde went on to say that VBEA feels the children are being put in the middle of this issue.
“No self-respecting educator would teach something that would hurt a child’s psyche,” she said.
Weems said the very definition of CRT can take on different meanings.
“The problem is those that keep saying we're not doing it have narrowly defined CRT,” she said.
The Colemans said their stance on the issue doesn't mean they're against instruction about Black history.
“We don't want to repeat, and we don't want to make the same ignorant mistakes,” said Shay Coleman. “We don't want any culture to do that, and so it is important that we don't ignore, that we don't erase history. At the same time, why are we doing the same thing? Why are we following the same tenants and the same principles and philosophies of judging people by their skin and not their character?”
The Virginia Department of Education spokesperson sent a statement saying CRT is not required in schools.
The statement read:
The state Board of Education's Standards of Learning comprise the content in each subject area that the commonwealth's school divisions are required to cover in their local curricula. No where in the standards is there a requirement for schools to teach critical race theory, or to incorporate critical race theory when presenting required content.
In developing policies and practices that promote equity and inclusive learning environments, the objective of the state board and the Virginia Department of Education is to ensure that all students, regardless of their race, economic status, or the languages they speak at home, feel welcomed in their schools and are prepared for academic and personal success.
Large crowd of parents and children kicking off a rally in Virginia Beach. People here believe Critical Race Theory (CRT) is being taught in schools. School districts including VB and Norfolk argue CRT is not part of their curriculum. @WTKR3 pic.twitter.com/IWlI4CI7R7— Antoinette DelBel (@AnnieDelBel) July 29, 2021
News 3 reached out to several local school districts asking if CRT is part of their curriculum.
In a statement, the spokesman for Chesapeake Public Schools said critical race theory is not included in its curriculum.
Teachers in Chesapeake Public Schools follow the curriculum identified by the Virginia Department of Education. VDOE does not include the theory in any part of the established standards. When reviewing textbooks and instructional resources our goal is to ensure that they are aligned to the curriculum and also culturally diverse.
As a division, we have established an Equity Council and their work aligns with the goals of our strategic plan. They review division data and policies in the area of academics, employees, environment, and community and provide recommendations for ways to ensure we are providing equitable opportunities in these areas.
Norfolk Public Schools sent a statement that read:
Norfolk Public Schools takes its direction from the Virginia Department of Education and the Virginia Board of Education. All textbooks, resources, and supplemental materials provided by the division are aligned with state standards. NPS teaches the Standards of Learning (SOL) content and skills for each subject as adopted by the State Board of Education. The standards are periodically revised in compliance with the law, and NPS makes adjustments to the division’s curriculums at that time. In October, the Board created an African American studies curriculum, which was piloted by NPS and continues to be offered to the division’s high schools. Norfolk Public Schools remains committed to focusing on the standards and work it is doing regarding sound culturally-responsive practices to ensure equity and excellence for all.