Speakers bring up critical race theory, lack of in-person school board meetings in Milford

City of Milford

City of Milford

Brian Gioiele/Hearst Connecticut Media

MILFORD — School-related issues were top of mind at the recent Board of Aldermen meeting.

One person, a retired high school teacher, brought up critical race theory, a controversial topic in districts throughout the state this year, while someone asked why school board meetings are still being held virtually instead of in person.

Retired Joseph High School teacher Walton Rollins, at last week’s Board of Aldermen meeting, claimed schools hide critical race theory teachings behind the term social emotional learning.

Critical race theory is an academic framework that examines how race and privilege are woven into American systems and institutions. The concept, which has roots in the 1970s and 1980s, has prompted national debate, despite little proof of it being taught as part of curriculum in most schools around the country.

Superintendent Anna Cutaia has denied claims that the district is incorporating CRT into its curriculum, most recently with a letter to parents, staff and guardians.

“Milford Public Schools is and has always been founded on the tenants of respect for all human beings, regardless of race ethnic origin, social class ability, religion or sexual orientation,” Cutaia said in her letter. “Part of developing respect for all people lies in learning more about them: historically, geographically and culturally.

“It is through this knowledge that our students will broaden their worldview and perspective, and be better prepared for their role as citizens once they leave us,” Cutaia added. “I find it appropriate to remind our community making false claims about the teaching of critical race theory in our district.”

Rollins also spoke during public comment on a common term he finds throughout Milford schools — “equity.” He said equity is the basis of all SEL core competencies and calls for all teaching and learning to be done through an equitable lens.

“What is the difference between equity and equality,” Rollins said. “Equality in education means we treat all children the same. Equity in education entails race-based social engineering which favors selected agreed minorities.”

In her letter, Cutaia stated that some people have claimed that Milford schools has thrown out all of their history books and are teaching students to feel ashamed or guilty of their ‘whiteness.’

“That is categorically not true,” she said. “Our goal is and always has been to develop ‘thinkers.’ As educators responsible for the well-being the intellectual and social/emotional development of all students in our care, the citizens of Milford should expect nothing less.”

Another question asked at the BOA meeting was why the Milford school board meetings were still being held virtually.

In an emailed statement to Hearst Connecticut Media, Board of Education Chair Susan Glennon said a state statute implemented in the spring allows boards to meet virtually through April 2022.

“Each individual board, through its chairperson, has authority over its meetings,” Glennon said. “Our virtual meetings have been live-streamed in real-time on YouTube and public access channels. They have been recorded with the recordings posted on the Board’s web page on the district.

“We are providing an opportunity for members of the public to join our virtual meetings in order to make public comment,” Glennon added. “These steps fulfill the requirements of the statute. There are other Milford boards and boards of education across the state who continue to meet virtually. We are not the only one.”

Glennon said the board did reach out last summer to inquire about the use of City Hall chambers for its meetings.

“They could not firmly commit to all of our meeting dates, since there might be conflicts when other city boards who have dedicated use of the chambers also return to in-person meetings,” she said. “For instance, the normal September Board of Aldermen meeting date fell on Labor Day, so they met this past Monday, which was also the date of the Board of Education’s business meeting.”

She added they continue to review Milford’s health metrics with the health department and are in the process of developing safety protocols to return to in-person meetings, which will be held in the Jonathan Law Auditorium.