Westport parents group decries 'increasing focus' on racism in schools

Photo of Amanda Cuda
A group of anonymous parents have formed a website, which lists Town Hall as its mailing address, that has drawn criticism from the schools superintendent.

A group of anonymous parents have formed a website, which lists Town Hall as its mailing address, that has drawn criticism from the schools superintendent.

Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media

WESTPORT — A group of anonymous parents have formed a website to raise awareness to what they claim is an “increasing focus” on racism in the town’s schools and in the community.

According to its website, Westport Parents 06880 formed in June when a group of 37 town parents came together to “share our concerns about the increasing focus on assertions of racism in our community.”

“We are united to keep our schools focused on academic achievement,” the group states on its website. “We reject political activism and moralizing intrusions into the classroom.”

There are no names associated with Westport Parents 06880 to avoid “the verbal attacks already being made on social media and by local political candidates.” There is no information listed to contact members behind the effort and the group does not appear to have a social media presence.

The group offers to send updates if people provide their email addresses. Once subscribed, the website shows the group’s mailing address as 110 Myrtle Ave. — Westport’s Town Hall.

“While the group has used the address for Westport Town Hall as its ‘mailing address,’ it has nothing to do with the official operations of the town and is not physically based in Town Hall,” First Selectman Jim Marpe said in a message to Hearst Connecticut Media. “It is unclear whether it is even based in Westport despite its name.”

Harold Bailey Jr., chair of TEAM Westport, called the group and its website “an invitation to cultural toxicity.”

TEAM — Together Effectively Achieving Multiculturalism — aims to make Westport a more welcoming community. Bailey said Westport Parents 06880 contradicts his group’s mission.

“This group would tell us there’s no problem,” Bailey said of Westport Parents 06880. “If you start talking about anti-racism, they say there is no racism. If talk about systemic racism, they say it doesn’t exist.”

The Westport Parents 06880 site pointed to Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice’s strategic plan, which “asserted that institutional and systemic racism are a significant problem in Westport, and that an Equity Audit was necessary to determine the level of racism as well as to propose remedial measures going forward.”

The group also took issue with the school system turning to New York University’s Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools to assess the problem. The Westport Parents group stated it was “alarmed” by the NYU center, which it said was based in critical race theory.

CRT is a controversial academic framework through which to view systems of racism and oppression in America. Even though it is generally considered a college-level theory, not taught as part of K-12 curriculum, the term is used by some conservatives to refer to certain school programs that encourage inclusion, diversity and equity.

CRT has recently become a hot-button discussion in some Connecticut communities, including New Canaan, Greenwich and Guilford. However, school and state officials said CRT is not being taught in K-12 classrooms.

On its site, Westport Parents 06880 claims CRT “seeks to divide people by separating them into groups based on power dynamics, with white people seen as white supremacist being dominant and all others being the marginalized groups of oppressed victims.”

The group encourages parents to demand access to the student curriculum.

Scarice took issue with several points made on the site, including the connection it draws between Westport Public Schools and critical race theory.

“The current hyperbole of ‘CRT’ strays widely from the original academic legal theory studied at the advanced graduate level,” he said in a statement. “To my knowledge, no Westport Public School educator has this advanced training in ‘CRT.’ In fact, you will have difficulty finding any K-12 educator trained in this theory.”

He added that there is no CRT “curriculum” in Westport.

“We study all types of thinkers and theories in schools,” Scarice said. “Teaching kids ‘how’ to think, not ‘what’ to think is an obligation of educators. Teaching kids to use critical thinking skills to analyze, synthesize, evaluate, etc. is a primary goal of education.”

He confirmed Westport schools adopted a three-year strategic plan in 2017, and it initiated an equity study conducted by NYU.

Scarice said the study “has shed light on some of the disparities in outcomes for different groups of students. However, this work is intended to benefit each and every student in the Westport Public Schools.”

Bailey said the Westport parent group’s presence won’t dissuade him from addressing issues around racism and other forms of discrimination.

“We’ve been working on this and we’re going to continue working on this,” he said. “It’s fundamental.”

Staff writer Adam Hushin contributed to this story.