LACONIA — The difference between Tuesday’s Laconia School Board meeting and the one held a month ago would be like comparing night and day.
While the issue of how the history and legacy of racial issues is taught in the classroom figured into the comments from some in the audience Tuesday night, the tone was civil. That wasn't always the case on June 15, when the meeting turned chaotic after some members of the public tried to confront the board about the issue of critical race theory, prompting the board chair to use a 15-minute recess as a cooling-off period.
Kathleen Murphy of Laconia told the board she was concerned about critical race theory and asked the board to do “what is morally right.”
But Murphy and other speakers added they were grateful for work being done by school staff and the dedication of board members.
Sallyann Schrader, who retired to Laconia after a teaching career in New York state, said it was important that students be taught the importance of accepting, as opposed to tolerating, those who are different from themselves.
“We need to focus on unity rather than separation,” she said.
Board member Aaron Hayward noted that students are being influenced by more than what they hear in the classroom. He said in the past year there has been a significant increase in the amount of “hateful and offensive” comments being made online.
“These students are not being taught that in school,” he said, “but it is being brought in because it is part of our society.”
Superintendent Steve Tucker repeated his earlier declaration that critical race theory is not being taught or being used as the basis for instruction in the Laconia school system.
“The Laconia School District will continue to work to support our students and staff so that discrimination does not take place. This is required by state and federal laws,” Tucker said. “We have provided training, information, and resources to support anti-discrimination in the district.”
Tucker said that in his 25 years in education, including 17 years as teacher, he and his colleagues “never heard of CRT until it became a national story.”
Teaching of CRT is now prohibited under the state’s new divisive concepts bill.
Tucker noted, “While there is language in the law about ‘freedom from discrimination,’ there are still questions about the practical application of this law and previous anti-discrimination laws.”
Tucker said state Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut told him recently that the Department of Education would be releasing guidance on the new law which, Tucker hoped, “will give districts like ours some clarity on what we are required to do.”
Calls and messages left with the Department of Education on when the guidance would be released were not returned Wednesday.
Critical race theory is an academic concept which originated in law schools. It seeks to explore how laws have been used in certain instances to maintain racism. Opponents argue CRT proclaims all white Americans are racist, and so divides people by race into oppressors and oppressed.
Skip Murphy of Gilford, who writes for the conservative website Granite Grok, handed Tucker and every school board member a copy of a Right to Know request demanding the school district turn over copies of a range of material related to critical race theory and other race and diversity issues, including teacher/staff training and curriculum materials.
Other speakers used the occasion to say they were grateful for the effort shown by the board and school district employees in meeting the challenges encountered during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Your job is not an easy one,” said Keith Noyes, a parent. “Thank you for what you have done and what you are doing.”