ANDERSON TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Controversy brewed in Forest Hills School District Monday evening when a group met to protest the teaching of critical race theory in the district, despite the district saying it doesn't teach CRT.
Critical race theory — often abbreviated as CRT — began as a way of examining laws through the lens of race and considering how those laws could keep the powerful in power. It has since spread to other disciplines exploring how racism has impacted life throughout history and today.
Despite the protesters at Nagel Middle School, in June alone two bills were introduced in Ohio to ban CRT from being taught in K-12 schools.
Those protesting said the district is trying to divide students and staff by teaching critical race theory.
"We're out here today to draw attention to CRT and the destructive nature it can have on a school district," said Brad Beckett, a parent who is running for school board. "As you may know, across the country right now, this issue has come to the forefront."
Forest Hills said no schools in the district are currently teaching CRT. The program under fire by protesters is the district's C.A.R.E program, which stands for Cultural Competence, Advocacy, Relationships and Empowerment.
When the team teaching this program was created in 2017, the district's lead psychologist, Wendy Strickler, said CRT was not behind it.
"We had seen a lot of needs in our district around mental wellness," she said. She is also running for a place on the school board. "We wanted to figure out how to better support a lot of kids with anxiety and depression. Kids not feeling included or, like, seen for who they really were in the district and recognizing we needed to do something to better meet that need, because as teachers that's what we need to do."
Parents like Beckett said the C.A.R.E program is too close to teaching CRT in the district.
"Forest Hills School District has a program that has elements of CRT in it," said Beckett. "Now it's hard to pin it down, because CRT uses code words. It's the kind of words they use to disguise what they are doing. I don't think you will find anyone out there saying, 'Hey, we use CRT.'"
Strickler and other parents in support of the district decided to hold a book drive Monday as a way to oppose the protesters.
"We're having the book drive to send a message that this community wants to come together," said Strickler. "We want to support our teachers and our administrators for the incredible work they are doing and our focus should be on just that."
The superintendent of the district said he has been working on a plan to address the allegations that CRT is being embedded into the C.A.R.E team.
Part of that plan includes creating a citizen advisory group that will meet five times as they come up with recommendations and thoroughly go over the C.A.R.E team objectives. The goal, he said, is to make sure the C.A.R.E team's priorities are clear and that CRT is not being intentionally taught to students or staff.