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Anti-Racism Lesson Using Controversial Book Sparks Raucous Debate in Somers Schools

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A lesson with racial overtones taught in a 10th-grade English class at Somers High School last week triggered a raucous revolt from parents at a Board of Education meeting.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Raymond Blanch, who penned a letter panning the lesson that centered around excerpts from the book Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad, was the target of several residents who questioned his leadership and called for his resignation.

“For $300,000 a year, if this was sports, we could say the superintendent has lost the locker room,” resident T.J. McCormack remarked. “We need a leader. We don’t have a leader. The time has come to consider stepping aside.”

In his Nov. 1 email, which also was authored by Claire Comerford, director of learning—humanities, and Kevin Guidotti, director of learning–STEM, Blanch addressed the lesson that some students informed their parents about while in class.

“The lesson was immediately discontinued, and the excerpts were pulled from use in the classroom. The district was not aware that this particular lesson was being taught, nor that the excerpts were being used,” Blanch stated. “We immediately began an investigation to determine how the text made it into the classroom. This material is not appropriate for use in our classrooms, and it is not in alignment with the district’s instructional policies. We are committed to ensuring that our classrooms are welcoming, balanced environments where all students are able to thrive.”

Saad’s book, published in 2020, “encourages people who hold white privilege to examine their (often unconscious) racist thoughts and behaviors,” according to a description on Amazon.

The English teacher who taught the lesson has been removed from the classroom, an online petition signed by nearly 2,000 people (as of press time) supporting the teacher states.

“I find it hard to believe this teacher just went rogue,” one parent said at the Nov. 1 Board of Education meeting. “Are we now a district where the children have to police the curriculum? We know this just didn’t happen by accident. Parents are not going to put up with this. Children are not here to take on the values of their teacher.”

Christine Hanford charged her daughter was compared by the English teacher to a racist and criticized Blanch for “making light out of what happened.”

“You have lost my trust and if you lose my trust, you lose my support,” Hanford said.

Other parents took the opportunity to bring up their dissatisfaction with the district’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) policy and the recent hiring of a DEI coordinator, Susan Gonzowitz, who co-authored a book entitled Teaching as Protest: Emancipating Classrooms Through Racial Consciousness.

Gonzowitz was selected over 30 other candidates who applied for the position.

“I am so tired of DEI. You have split my family in half,” said Erin Kovacs, a former teacher in Somers. “Not every family is a cookie-cutter family. DEI is another name for CRT. We all know that. You should be focusing on the underdogs, the kids that look different, the kids that are being bullied.”

However, another parent, Jessica Rifkin, said DEI was “much needed in this district.”

“Children should celebrate diversity that is around us and in Somers,” she said. “We need to give it a chance.”

Nicole Dwyer, who said she was a third-generation Puerto Rican and mother of four children in the district, mentioned a petition circulating that had garnered more than 500 signatures calling on the Board of Education to establish a Citizens Advisory Committee.

“We are looking for checks and balances,” she said. “That is the part that is dividing us. We are here for our children. One united purpose. I cry to hear the divide in our community.”

 

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