🎒 Who gets to teach what in Pittsburgh schools?

A map showing locations of disticts making changes due to CRT.

Updated May 19, 2022.

A Pittsburgh-area school district has approved a controversial policy enforcing a “balanced approach” to hot-button issues. Under the new rules in Norwin School District, teachers can discuss controversial topics but must avoid “indoctrinating” students. Those in favor feel the rules will safeguard against instruction in critical race theory, which is typically reserved for law students at the postgraduate level, while those against say the policy will have a chilling effect on Norwin educators. (Full disclosure: I consulted with Norwin on culturally responsive arts education in a previous role.)

This was just the latest example of an increasingly fraught educational environment both regionally and nationally that has been characterized by acrimonious board meetings and student walkouts. Though much of the hostility was initially directed toward mask mandates and other COVID mitigation measures, conservative parents and board members have increasingly coalesced around CRT as their top issue. In several educational institutions, boards have passed policies like Norwin’s that limit teachers’ ability to discuss topics through a racial-justice lens.

The issue began to surface last July when Sewickley Academy, a private school, fired several teachers and administrators including its head of diversity, equity and inclusion after a parent group applied significant pressure. Students at the academy have since staged several protests, saying the school has created a culture of fear and now refuses to listen to pupils and parents of color. Several former faculty members are now suing the Academy. They allege they were fired for speaking out against the private school’s firing of all of its Black administrators. In August, Mars Area School District passed a “patriotism amendment” that explicitly forbade teaching anything that would cause students “guilt or anguish” because of race, gender, or sexuality.

Meanwhile, Grove City College, a private Christian school, has become the first local example of an institution of higher education explicitly opposing CRT. The college conducted a special inquiry into the matter, and its board released a statement denouncing the theory. The inquiry resulted in a report, released April 13, that recommends changes to coursework perceived as CRT-adjacent. Grove City’s student body is over 90 percent white. In mid-May, the college’s board adopted many of the recommendations in the report. The board has added the word “conservative” back to the college’s vision statement but says they will “continue to recruit and support qualified minority students.”

The issue is unlikely to go away soon. Numerous parents now face a variety of decisions, including how to address the controversy with their children, whom to elect for local school boards and even whether or not to pull their children from schools adopting policies with which they disagree. Other problems like an increase in school fights haven’t made these decisions any easier.