Indoctrination by the Somerset County Board of Education in Somerset County Public Schools
This letter is in response to the letter from Dr. John B. Gaddis on October 23, 2020, and Tony Bevilaqua, written October 30, 2020. The language in Mr. Bevilaqua’s letter referred to curriculum materials removed from the 9th grade reading list. (Note the word curriculum materials in Mr. Bevilaqua’s statement) “Policy 500-19 subject is Selection of Educational Media Materials." In Dr. Gaddis’ letter, he mentioned part of policy 500-19, and stated that the policy referred to library books, and had nothing to do with the classroom material within the curriculum. But, he left out a crucial part of the policy that states “Emphasis is placed on providing resources that meet the requirements of the curriculum”. This poses the question: What do library books have to do with curriculum?
This is all about questioning the curriculum in my son’s ninth grade English class. In reviewing this year's curriculum, I determined that the educational materials selected for the curriculum were inappropriate for the 9th grade. Many of the materials approved were racist and had nothing to do with the English 9 standards. I have personally read many of the books and watched the media materials for this class and found that they have come from the social justice movement in order to propagate the ideology of critical race theory. The taking of the Lord’s name in vain, grossly offensive and profane language, promoting use of drugs, inappropriate sexual encounters, racial slurs, racial comments, discrimination, anti-law enforcement, excessive violence, lying, stealing, gender identity, sexual preference, critical race theory (and much more) lead me to question who approves books for classrooms.
My wife and I met with the Principal, teacher, and English Administrator at Crisfield High on September 15, 2020. I was told by the Principal, before the meeting, that he checked Maryland's approved list for the books, and that all of these books were on the approved list. The English Administrator then informed me that there wasn’t a list, and never was a list. So how did the Principal check Maryland's approved book list? The English Administrator told us that the teacher(s), another administrator, and herself were the selection committee of the English Curriculum. Maryland provides a rubric of sort (A1), which is age appropriate for Text Structure, Language Conventionality and Clarity, Levels of Meaning or Purpose, and Knowledge Demands (see EX A). As long as it meets this criteria, it appears to be approved. To speculate, an example would be not having a Barney book for 12th grade English class, or Shakespeare book for a kindergarten class. This criteria refers to the maturity of the book compared to the class reading it, and not the content of the book itself.
I was led to believe that Maryland researched and read these books, and deemed these books as appropriate for curriculum in Maryland’s public schools. After they were approved by Maryland, they were put on a list and distributed to all the counties for use. Not much could be done if they were on the approved list, as far as removing the book from the classroom. I asked the teacher, the Principal and the English Administrator, “Why keep the All American Boys book in the curriculum?” The Teacher claimed the content outweighs the language,and stated that some people don’t consider taking the Lord’s name in vain as bad. The English Administrator stated she approved the book as of last year. The principal stated my son could opt out of the class but the book would stay. When we showed the pictures of the teacher promoting her biases on FaceBook, which directly relates to the plot of All American Boys, the principal stopped the meeting and stated that we were attacking the teachers character and dismissed the teacher from the meeting. I was merely showing a connection with the material she chose for her classroom, and her personal views on controversial topics within America today. How disingenuous, we didn’t take the pictures or post them on facebook, she did. These actions were self-inflicted.
At the Board of Education meeting on September 15, 2020, my wife and I signed up for a public comment session. They gave us 2 minutes for each of us. My wife allowed me to take her 2 minutes, so that gave me 4 minutes. In that 4 minutes, I presented two of the books to the board: All American Boys and the book Stamped. I had played an audio excerpt for All American Boys, including (3) F-bombs, the use of drugs, and racial slurs in less than two pages of readings. The book Stamped was just as bad, referring to blacks as “a different Adam, a different species, non-human and maybe animals, or monsters, or aliens, but not human—at least not like Whites.” You would have thought that the board would immediately put a hold on these books just by the 4 minutes that I presented! After the meeting, I emailed each of the Board of Education members asking their opinion. Only two emailed me back, merely acknowledging that I emailed them, but still not answering any concerns. I heard absolutely nothing from the other three. After that meeting they stopped the public comments session, which takes away parents rights and a violation of the Maryland Open Meetings Act a.k.a. ”Sunshine Law.”
A few days later on September 24, 2020, my wife and I met with the Superintendent to discuss the books and their inappropriateness. We went over each and every book on my son’s syllabus, seven in total. The Superintendent took detailed notes on each book as we explained our concerns. We also gave him social justice websites that promote the Abolitionist Teaching Methods, and the authors of these books. My son’s English teacher shared these websites on Facebook, and this was included in our concerns we showed the superintendent. How can a teacher be on the selection committee of curriculum with so much bias?
One of the posts say “No caption needed: #BlacklivesMatter,” with her holding a sign that says “Dear White People. Stop Being Racist Af. Sincerely, A White Person. BLACK LIVES MATTER.”(A2) We showed the Superintendent all the photos that we had of our son’s English teacher posting her comments on facebook. He informed us that he would read the books and give the SCBOE all the material that he collected from us that day. He stated that he would meet with the SCBOE relaying our concerns and they would make a decision on how to proceed before the next board meeting. I left with the impression that he was concerned and appeared to agree with us. He never explicitly said that he agreed with us, but he did say he completely understood what we were saying.
On October 1, 2020, the Superintendent stated in a letter “after reviewing the curriculum policy I am going to follow the process in SCPS Policy 500-19. The policy (attached) lays out the process we will follow.” The whole process seemed like a complete run a round. I had to fill out the Citizen’s Request For Reconsideration of Material for each book, which came directly from Policy 500-19.I had proposed 7 books, which would be a mountain of work to do. Then I would have to submit these back to the principal. The appropriate staff personnel, parent(s), representatives from the review committee, and the principal would arrange a second conference with the individual(s), and attempt to resolve the complaint. Each committee member will read, view or listen to the material in question in its entirety, and read professional evaluations pertaining to the material. If the complaint cannot be resolved at this level, a copy of the review, along with the actions taken at this level, will be sent to the Superintendent of Schools (Remember, I had already met with him and he took very detailed notes). This was the run around in the hopes that I would drop it. I did respond back to the Superintendent requesting some items that I wanted, my reason being that it was obvious that proper procedure was neglected. I had also heard several other issues concerning the curriculum of other grades, and wanted a complete list of books to see if we had a rogue teacher, or a system that was out of control.
On October 20, 2020, I submitted a letter to the Board of Education to be read before the public meeting. Again, SCBOE stopped the public comments; we were totally unaware of this new policy until the day before the meeting. They acknowledged that I sent the letter at the meeting but would not read the letter or even summarize the contents. I had found in policy 500-19, the policy that our Superintendent referenced as the policy we would be following, had been violated by SCPS. Under part 3, in the second paragraph it states “ Selection is a cooperative process involving the media specialist, the teaching staff, administrators, parents, and students. Emphasis is placed on providing resources that meet the requirements of the curriculum; providing for the diverse levels of student ability, maturity, and interests. Selection should reflect current trends in education.” However, parents and students were not included in the selection process for all the books in my son's class. I asked the Board of Education to suspend all books until further review, at least until each parent, student and citizen has a chance to read them and deem their appropriateness.
On Friday October 23, 2020, the Superintendent emailed me stating that he had been thinking about the issue that I had brought before the board. Over the last few days, he reviewed the policies on instruction, with the help of some staff. Here is what he determined: Policy 500-4 is to establish the principles curriculum development for Somerset County Public School (SCPS). Surprise! When you catch them in a violation of their own policy, they switch to another policy. How disingenuous is this action? The last update on policy 500-4 was February 17, 2009. The purpose of 500-04, is to establish the principles of curriculum development, I take that to mean, before a school can begin to design it’s curriculum, it’s important that its principles and the purpose of those principles are agreed and can be articulated by all stakeholders.
The definition of Curriculum is the subjects comprising a course of study in a school or college. Once the course of study or curriculum is developed, then you pick the educational materials to support or enhance the study or curriculum. To clarify, policy 500-4 refers to the development of curriculum standards that are used by the whole educational department, and policy 500-19 refers to the selection of books and other materials used to supplement and achieve these curriculum standards within each individual classroom. An example of curriculum standards is in the English I Standards map. It outlines the standards of which the class should be taught, such as developing reading comprehension and writing skills. An example of supplementary materials would be a novel used to enhance these comprehension and writing skills.
Let’s take a look at Policy 500-19:
To establish procedures for the selection and weeding of both print and non-print media materials.
Instructional materials will be defined as all print and non-print materials which are utilized as basic materials, supplemental material, and cursory materials. Basic materials include those intended for use by every teacher of the subject or grade, with every student each year. Supplemental materials are used to support, enrich and/or individualize the curriculum
(course of study) or to meet specific needs. Cursory materials are those items which are of interest or value for a short period of time.
The primary objective in the selection of educational media is to provide the best available resources for the enrichment of the teaching-learning situation.
Selection is a cooperative process involving the media specialist, the teaching staff, administrators, parents, and students. Emphasis is placed on providing resources that meet the requirements of the curriculum (course of study); providing for the diverse levels of student ability, maturity, and interests. Selection should reflect current trends in education.
Evaluation is an integral part of selection in that standard bibliographic tools are used to aid in selection, and materials are re-evaluated from time to time.
In conclusion, as everyone can clearly see, parents and students should not participate in the development of the curriculum (500-4), but once the curriculum is developed, such as my son’s 9th grade English class, parents and students should be included in the selection of materials (500-19) used to fit the standards of curriculum. An example of a 9th grade standard would be to read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 9-10 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range. Sometimes teachers in the same county grade use different books, not a curriculum change, a selection change. A prime example would be,that my son’s 9th grade teacher selected the book All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds, but the 9th grade teacher at Washington High selected All Boys Aren’t Blue, by George M. Johnson, hence the same curriculum, but a different selection of books. This is why I state that SCPS has violated their own policy(500-19). Parents and students were not involved in the selection process, therefore, all books should be suspended until parents, students and citizens have had a chance to read them, and deem the books to be appropriate or inappropriate for the classrooms.
In talking to high ranking officials in the Division of Curriculum and Instruction at the Maryland State Board of Education, they informed me that parents and students should be a part of the book selection process. SCPS should provide sign-in sheets for parents and students during the selection book process. If they can’t, suspend the books until they can be reviewed. Dr. Gaddis was right initially, policy 500-19 is the policy that should be used for all material selection. “Instructional materials will be defined as all print and non-print materials which are utilized as basic materials, supplemental material, and cursory materials...supplemental materials are used to support, enrich, and/or individualize the curriculum, or to meet specific needs.” This language under definitions does not include libraries at all (despite Dr. Gaddis’ claims in his first letter), it does however mention teacher(s), student(s) and curriculum.
I have some concerning questions for our Superintendent and SCBOE:
Why did the Superintendent originally use policy 500-19?
If 500-19 was the wrong policy to use, then what policy have you been using for the last seven years and why?
What does instructional materials have to do with the library?
Is not instructional defined as intended or used for teaching?
Why does policy 500-19 state that Instructional materials will be defined as all print and non-print materials which are utilized as basic materials, supplemental materials, and cursory materials?
Does policy 500-19 state in definitions that basic materials include those intended for use by every teacher of the subject or grade, with every student each year?
What does the above question have to do with libraries?
Would the teacher use the supplemental materials that are used to support, enrich and/or individualize the curriculum or would it be the students that used it?
What does it mean in 500-19 under policy, that states the primary objective in the selection of educational media is to provide the best available resources for the enrichment of the teaching-learning situation? Is teaching not a part of the classroom?
Are students required to read every book in the library? To follow up, are students required to read the supplemental material chosen by the teacher to enhance the curriculum?
When was the last time the SCBOE heard a regular report on curriculum?
Would the SCBOE allow books in the classrooms that contained taking the Lord’s name in vain?
Would the SCBOE allow books that have grossly offensive language and profanity in the classrooms?
Would the SCBOE allow racist groups, racial slurs and racism in the classrooms?
Does the SCBOE take the responsibility for all the curriculum, basic, supplemental, and cursory materials put into our classrooms?
And if the SCBOE doesn’t take the responsibility for all these items used to enhance the curriculum and put them in our classrooms, who does and why?
The whole reason I am writing this letter is to achieve the following goal: I want to create awareness about the controversial topics being taught in the classroom, despite having no relation to the curriculum standards itself. Students, Parents, Citizens, and all Stakeholders should be aware of what our kids are being taught. We should develop an unbiased committee comprising all parties above, to fairly assess the books in question, all books being used to supplement the curriculum, as well as all future books that could be used to teach the children of Somerset County. Not only should the Parents, Students, and Citizens be aware of this, but this should be promoted in the community to raise further public engagement in the school system.
The Somerset County Board of Education members work for the citizens of Somerset County, and not for the Superintendent. It's time to wake them up and remind them of that. These are the individuals who have rejected, obstructed, and knowingly allowed these teaching materials to be used in the school system, and they permit intellectual manipulation of your child. Drop them a line and let them know what you think, and remember these board members, come election time.
SCBOE Board Members
Robert T. Wells
Troy Brittingham, Jr.
Patti E. Monk
Fellow Member, Editor, and Parent in Somerset County
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November 17, 2020