The Aegis

Harford parents say schools are teaching ‘critical race theory,’ but officials stress ‘culturally responsive teaching’

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Harford County Public Schools has not incorporated the controversial “critical race theory” into its curriculum or professional development for staff, officials said earlier this week in response to criticism from parents and other community members.

It is, however, using another program with the acronym CRT — “culturally responsive teaching” — in its efforts to address issues of racial inequity in the school system.


“That is something that our teachers are trained to do and that they have been told to do,” Board of Education Vice President Rachel Gauthier said, stressing that culturally responsive teaching encourages students to be proud of their culture and share it with their peers.

“It is bringing your culture to the forefront so that you can be proud of who you are, regardless of your race or culture, just that you’re proud of who you are,” she added.


The issue came up during the school board’s meeting on Monday. Several parents and other community members expressed, during the public comment period, their concerns about critical race theory being part of the HCPS curriculum.

Critical race theory dates to the 1970s and early 1980s and is based on the work of academics who believed civil rights advances were being reversed, according to an article on The Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University’s First Amendment Encyclopedia.

“Some of the basic tenets of CRT rest on the belief that racism is a fundamental part of American society, not simply an aberration that can be easily corrected by law,” according to the article.

Parents and others who spoke at Monday’s board meeting argued it could be used to create division among students and staff, that students could be singled out based on their identities and that they would learn a skewed version of American history that presents the nation as fundamentally racist and white supremacist.

“While I do not think racism has been eradicated within all ethnicities, fighting racism with racism is like fighting fire with literal fire that only causes more damage,” parent Jill Ferrara said.

But Paula Stanton, the supervisor of equity and cultural proficiency for HCPS, said she had to look up critical race theory when school officials began getting questions about it.

“It is not something that we discussed or thought about in any type of professional development,” she said, and Gaither stressed that “critical race theory has not been discussed in terms of changing our approach to teaching.”

The conversation on critical race theory was sparked when, at the end of March, parents were sent a link from the school system to a report entitled “Survey on Racism, Implicit Bias, and Other Forms of Discrimination.”


The report included the results of a survey — developed by the former student representative on the board, Christian Walker and current student representative Phoebe Bailey — that was administered in June with support from the school system. More than 3,900 students in fifth through 12th grade had responded to the survey.

The initial results of the survey were presented to the board in August. A presentation on the final version of the survey was on the school board’s agenda for Monday.

Ferrara described the survey as “implicitly biased and unequitable itself” and characterized the questions as vague and “meant to guide a specific narrative.”


Yakoubou Ousmanou, manager of research and program evaluation for HCPS’ North Star program, stressed Monday that the school system “did not use the tenets of the critical race theory” when developing the survey questions. He noted that most respondents said that their teachers and school administrators work to create an environment that is inclusive.

Close to 70% of all students surveyed indicated that their school is welcoming and inclusive to all students of all skin colors, cultures, religions and other personal traits, Ousmanou said.

He expressed concern, however, that about 74% of students said they have “personally witnessed or experienced racist and hurtful comments from other students.”

“We have been focused not on a theory, not on a particular author, not on any particular ideology, but we have been focused on our students and our communities and what they’ve told us,” Stanton said. “Not only with this survey but through the report that I sometimes get weekly about incidents involving prejudice, discrimination, bias and yes, sometimes racism.”


Parents concerned about critical race theory brought up matters such as a citation in the survey report that the work of authors such as Ijeoma Oluo, writer of the books “So You Want to Talk About Race” and “Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America,” as well as how HCPS is working with the Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium as officials refine equity policies and procedures.

Stanton said she and her colleagues referred to a quote by Oluo regarding checking one’s privilege.

“When somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing and may, in fact, be contributing to those struggles,” Oluo states in “So You Want to Talk About Race.”

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Discussions among HCPS staff about checking their privilege were not focused on “white privilege” or racism, Stanton said, but that everyone has some type of privilege and should be “looking within and figuring out how we leverage whatever advantages we have to help others who are less advantaged.”

The partnership with MAEC is meant to review school system policies, procedures and data to determine “where we are strong and where we are weak” in fulfilling the HCPS mission to ensure “each student will attain academic and personal success in a safe and caring environment that honors the diversity of our students and staff,” Stanton said.

She encouraged people to look into the work of scholars such as Gloria Ladson-Billings and Geneva Gay to learn more about culturally responsive teaching, and noted that “culturally relevant teaching” and “culturally responsive pedagogy” have been topics of discussion among HCPS educators for some time.


“For as long as I’ve been in Harford County, we’ve talked about culturally responsive teaching,” said Stanton, who was named HCPS’ Teacher of the Year in 2018 and taught at Bel Air High School and the Alternative Education Program at the Center for Educational Opportunity in Aberdeen before becoming supervisor of equity and cultural proficiency.

Stanton also noted state mandates that all local public school systems develop equity policies and that data from prior years shows gaps in achievement for Maryland students based on race or disability status, as well as differences in how students are disciplined based on race. The school board adopted an equity policy for Harford County in December.

“We’re really trying to figure out how to address the concerns that we have, how to close our equity and opportunity gaps,” Stanton said.

“We have a real opportunity to continue to grow, and we want to partner with the community to get this done,” she added.