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District 87 Pushes More ‘Inclusive’ Curriculum, Not Critical Race Theory

Suzie Hutton and Diane Wolf
Eric Stock
/
WGLT
Suzie Hutton, left, and Diane Wolf pose for a photo next to a District 87 sign at the district offices.

The head of curriculum for District 87 says the district will continue to push for more inclusive instruction, but Critical Race Theory is not included.

Assistant superintendent Diane Wolf said Critical Race Theory is not developmentally appropriate for students. But she said the district has started to develop classroom instruction that focuses more on diversity, equity and inclusion.

“We’re at the very beginning stages of truly getting to a curriculum that is representative of our student body and our community,” Wolf said.

According to the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), a majority (52%) of District 87 students are non-white, including 23% Black, 15% Hispanic and 11% who identify as multiracial. Wolf noted students in the district speak 40 languages.

Some people who were aligned with a conservative media campaign argued during a heated a school board meeting last week the district was teaching Critical Race Theory and has been "indoctrinating" students by teaching about racism.

Critical Race Theory seeks to address racism and inequality in the United States.

Seventh-grade teacher Suzie Hutton chairs the English Language Arts at Bloomington Junior High School. She said the district wants parents to have input if there's content some might not want their children to learn.

“If we are going to do something that we feel like there might be any questions about (it), we are sending permission slips home. We are sending parent education (materials). We’re sending links,” Hutton explained. “I think because of that upfront work and knowing what is best for my students, I have not had any parents complain.”

Hutton said discussion of race at the junior high is centered on a theme called "Windows and Mirrors and Sliding Glass Doors."

“We look for (literary) experiences that reflect the demographics of our students, so that they can see themselves, they can learn about each other,” said Hutton. “The sliding glass door is so that they can step into the world and learn about other experiences.”

She said the curriculum’s theme for the recently-ended school year was "Empathy for Others."

Hutton said discussions of race are “authentically embedded” in the literature students read for class.

“I’m not going to say there’s a pull-out time like, ‘Today we are going to talk about (race),” Hutton said.

“We do not teach Critical Race Theory, so I wasn’t sure what was being asked.”
District 87 assistant superintendent Diane Wolf

Wolf said parents who have concerns about what their children are being taught can always contact her office, adding not a single parent has contacted her about how race is discussed in schools.

As for the people who accused the district of “indoctrinating” students with “Marxist” teachings at last week's meeting, Wolf said they need to present evidence.

“We do not teach Critical Race Theory, so I wasn’t sure what was being asked,” Wolf said. “We need exact proof that this is happening so that we can get to the root of it because that’s very important to us that we sure our families feel safe.

“Just because you say it doesn’t make it real.”

Sex education

On another subject, Wolf said the school district has not received guidance or education materials from the Illinois State Board of Education on how schools are expected to teach comprehensive sex education.

The state has approved “sexual health education” for grades 6-12 and a “personal health and safety” curriculum for grades K-5. Republican lawmakers and some religious groups have pushed back against its “culturally appropriate” guidelines that involve teaching about gender identity and sexual orientation.

Sex ed was another hot topic at the recent school board meeting. Wolf said no curriculum has been established yet.

“I don’t even know how (ISBE is) expecting us to implement that yet, so I don’t know how people not in education receive that,” Wolf said.

Mandates

Wolf said when it comes to curriculum and other mandates coming from the state, such as mask requirements during the pandemic, the district is obligated to comply, despite suggestions from critics the district should reject rules it may oppose — even if it means losing recognition from ISBE.

“It does matter because if you are not recognized by the state board, your students at your high school when they are going into college are not eligible for scholarships and NCAA playing because your school is not recognized,” Wolf said.

The group that protested at the District 87 school board meeting last week plans to address the Unit 5 school board meeting on Wednesday.

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