‘A low simmer’: Vermont’s critical race theory backlash isn’t over – vtdigger.org – DC Initiative on Racial Equity
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network of national groups stoke fears about “critical race theory,” a once-obscure academic theory turned by conservatives into a catch-all bogeyman signifying progressive school initiatives.

In Vermont, it sometimes feels as if the moment has passed. Events held by right-wing activists and politicians in late summer and early fall have slipped out of the headlines. 

But some educators say the debate has left a lingering chilling effect in certain classrooms. In one district, the school board fell just one vote shy of attempting to ban so-called critical race theory outright. Administrators elsewhere report receiving expansive public records requests demanding all materials related to “equity” and even “social-emotional learning.” And many are wearily waiting to see who runs in school board elections when March rolls around.

“The culture wars are alive and well,” said Jay Badams, the superintendent in School Administrative Unit 70, an Upper Valley school district that straddles Vermont and New Hampshire. “They’re just at a low simmer compared to other places.”

Gov. Phil Scott, a socially liberal Republican who appointed the state’s first-ever director of racial equity, is not one for culture wars. 

“Gov. Scott believes we should absolutely pursue efforts in schools to promote justice and equity,” Jason Maulucci, his press secretary, wrote in an email.

But the Vermont Republican Party, which has leaned into the polarized mood of the national GOP, appears to believe it has hit upon a galvanizing strategy. Paul Dame, its newly elected chair, said he’s met parents who were politically checked out until the critical race theory debate came to town.

“One of the things I heard from them was, ‘I just assumed that everything in school today was the same way it was when I was in school,’” he said.  

Dame said he isn’t necessarily interested in measures to ban critical race theory or related topics. But he does think energy in that space could be channeled into expanding access to school vouchers.

“I think that the path forward in Vermont is not to ban content, not to mandate content, but to give parents a choice of what content they feel is appropriate for their kids,” he said.

A taxpayer-funded migration to schools with more right-wing leanings is now easier than ever in Vermont. Following a series of legal challenges by well-funded national conservative law firms, school districts that offer vouchers are now including religious schools in their list of eligible schools.

‘Not a K-12 thing’

Accused of indoctrinating children with some sinister ideology, many officials have reflexively denied the presence of critical race theory in the state’s classrooms.

“CRT is not a K-12 thing. It just isn’t,” said Darren Allen, a spokesperson for the Vermont-NEA, the state teachers union.

Darren Allen and paid leave advocatesvtdigger.org

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