West Chester Area School District trains teachers in “talking to children about gender”; board votes to keep sexually explicit graphic novel, ‘Gender Queer,’ in school libraries
The West Chester Area School District promotes perceived accomplishments at achieving equity on its website under a page titled “Equity Mission.” This page provides numerous resources for teachers and parents in the district to explain the district’s equity goals and what the district has accomplished to achieve them. One resource on this page is a document titled “Equity History.” This document includes more than 50 equity accomplishments the school district has achieved since 2004. These accomplishments include:
- The West Chester Area School District began its partnership with Pacific Education Group (PEG) to train administrators, school board members, and teacher leaders in Beyond Diversity. This professional development helped to support a common understanding of the role of racism in the roots causes of the minority achievement gap. Beyond Diversity training also introduced the school district to the Courageous Conversation protocol that supports interracial dialogue.
- The District Equity Leadership Team (DELT) was created to coordinate equity initiatives across all elementary, middle and high schools.
- Beyond Diversity and Courageous Conversations training became required professional development for the WCASD New Teacher Academy for all incoming teaching staff.
- In 2011-12, in order to sustain our staff training program, our equity leaders who had been trained by the Pacific Education Group took a year-long course to become certified Beyond Diversity and Courageous Conversations trainers for our schools.
- In 2013-14, the district created a Supervisor of Equity position to oversee the district’s Equity work.
- The Class Rank system at the high schools is eliminated because it sorts rather than cultivates student success. Class Rank has been shown to be a barrier to access for all students.
- The high schools dissolve the “Basic Level” to improve minority students access to higher level courses. This aligned with School Board strategic planning goals of access to upper level courses for all students regardless of race and income levels.
- The school board establishes goals for minority hiring. In 2014, the district interviewed seven candidates of color; in 2020, it interviewed 79. In 2014, it hired one of the seven candidates of color; In 2020, it hired 10 of the 79 interviewed. In that time frame, the percentage of professional staff of color increases from 5% to 7% while the African American student population deceases from 6.5% to 4.8%.
- The district’s Homework Policy and Guidelines are revised with a sensitivity that recognizes how homework can be a barrier for low-income families.
- Beyond Diversity Training is provided to all staff, including support staff and custodial staff twice a year, with an overview provided for all inductees.
- Student Equity Teams begin forming at middle and high school levels. Student sessions on culture and diversity are held.
- School-based Equity Action Plans are implemented to target areas of growth as indicated by Local Effectiveness Measures.
- District Administrators are provided professional development on Culturally Responsive Pedagogy as it relates to the Danielson Model of Teacher Evaluation.
- District Administrators are provided professional development on what is known as “microaggressions.”
- The Equity Update, a district newsletter for staff, is established to highlight and share the work being done in each building and to provide additional resources to staff.
- Diversity Speaker Justin Brown, a Resident Director at West Chester University, provided a presentation to staff in our elementary schools.
- Classroom observations are conducted to highlight elements of Culturally Responsive Pedagogy and to determine areas of growth.
- Teachers are provided professional development on Culturally Responsive Pedagogy.
- Teachers are provided professional development on microaggressions.
- Continuing with our second year of curriculum updates to include more diverse literature.
This document mentions that staff and teachers in the school district receive training on diversity and “culturally responsive pedagogy” on several occasions. The term “culturally responsive” is often used to describe a method of teaching that includes the race and ethnicity of students as part of the lessons taught in classrooms. The document also includes a statement from the school district on how all staff receive training on identifying “microaggressions” and how staff should be able to have conversations with students on “race.” The school district explains:
Our goal is to eliminate institutionalized racism in our schools. We spent a considerable amount of time working internally to build systemic training for all staff so they can help each other identify microaggressions in our schools. We want our staff to be able to hold courageous conversations about race. We want our staff to be able to facilitate conversations with students and parents about race.
On July 13, 2020, the school district’s Board of School Directors published a statement on “racial equity.” The Board of School Directors explains in the letter: “The Directors of the West Chester Area School District stand united in support of racial equity, and more broadly, in our commitment to ensure that all students in our District achieve equitable outcomes.” The Board continues to explain in the letter:
To that end, the WCASD School Board pledges to work with the administrators, teachers, staff, students, and parents of the WCASD community to engage in a sustained effort to systematically uncover areas of inequity, prejudice and discrimination at the district, school and classroom levels; and to identify and implement solutions to overcome these challenges.
The Board of School Directors then asks in the letter for “all members of the WCASD community to stand with us in support of social justice and racial equity.” The Board then explains in the letter that “the District and the School Board have pledged to eliminate racial injustice and all forms of injustice in our schools and pledge to listen to our families.”
The Board of School Directors also explains in the letter that “the WCASD school board and administration received results of a comprehensive six month racial equity audit conducted by The Delaware Valley Consortium for Excellence & Equity at the University of Pennsylvania.” The school district has this report published online. The report details the “percentage of student enrollment” in several different courses in the categories of “minority” students and “all” students. This information is provided for “advanced placement classes,” “accelerated honors courses,” and “dual enrollment courses.” Data points for the race of students suspended from school are also provided.
The report also details the number of interviews and the number of hires of “racially diverse teachers.” The report then provides “action steps” for the school district to implement in order to hire more diverse teachers. Some of these action steps include:
- Consider additional staff support in HR that might target energies in seeking diverse candidates.
- As the “standard interview questions” are reviewed, consider, consider expanding questions that get to all candidate’s deep understanding of equity and demonstration of culturally responsive behaviors in practice.
- Consider development of focused “grow your own” efforts with your students of color in middle school/high school career planning to nurture and support their potential interest/experiences in teaching/education as a career.
- Raise diversity recruitment and retention challenges with future collective bargaining agreements.
The report also advises the school district to change the curriculum taught to students to include a “culturally responsive pedagogy.” The report provides the following recommendation: “Ensure that the K-12 curriculum reflects the cultures relevant to the school district’s diverse population and all students’ understandings of equity and social justice.” The following action steps were then provided to the school district:
- Review and revise West Chester Area School District policies and administrative regulations that direct and guide curriculum development, materials selection and lesson planning as a foundation for culturally relevant curricula from which all students, regardless of racial or ethnic background, can benefit.
- Assess internal capacity and build capacity where needed in order to develop culturally inclusive curricula and employ culturally responsive pedagogy.
- Apply the cultural lens in the revision and selection of curricular materials; making sure culturally and linguistically diverse groups’ contributions are highlighted.
- As K-12 curriculum renewal proceeds, and as planned course outlines are revised, allow a diverse group of students and parents to review each proposed planned course outline to ensure that they represent and are culturally relevant to the diverse student population.
- Ensure that all units of study and courses, but particularly social studies and English offerings K-12, include the representation, history, perspectives and culture of diverse ethnic groups, as well as issues of equity and social justice, and the development of students’ cultural competence.
The school district’s website has a page labeled “School board Beliefs & Equity Mission and Overview.” The school district states its “equity mission” on this page:
“Eradicate institutional racism and inequities through social justice, promoting the emotional development of staff and students, and embracing diverse perspectives.”
This page also features the school district’s equity goals. These include:
- Teach an inclusive curriculum that teaches anti-racism, celebrates differences, promotes understanding, and seeks multiple perspectives.
- Promote a positive school climate in which students feel safe, respected, and appreciated.
- Provide on-going professional development to all staff in all aspects of equity.
- Engage staff, students, parents, and community members in our work.
- Provide equitable access to district programming.
The school district then lists the equity teams in the local schools:
- Equity Advocates and E-Team members are being trained by The Howard Group to expand our Equity work across all areas.
- District Equity Leadership Team (DELT) – Compromised of Equity Advocates, Affiliates, District Administrators, Support Staff, Teachers, and Counselors.
- Building E-Teams (BELT) – Each our 17 school has its own Equity Team.
- Student Equity Teams (SET) – Our High and Middle Schools have Student Equity Teams. Elementary Schools have existing/developing Student Equity Teams.
The school district has a page online that details how it has implemented equity into “English Language Arts.” The school district states: “The West Chester Area School District has made some curriculum improvements, however, there is a need to continue to examine our curriculum, and look for ways to incorporate more diversity and culturally responsive materials and programs.” The school district also has a page online that details how it has implemented equity in “Social Studies.” Part of this change in “Social Studies” classes is having teachers question the importance of “Columbus Day” and “Thanksgiving” to children in the third grade.
On June 2, 2020, the school district’s superintendent penned a letter on “racism.” He explains in the letter that “as our country finds itself in violent turmoil and civil unrest after recent incidents of racism, and many in our school community have expressed concern, I feel compelled to once again reach out.”
He then states:
As much as I would like to believe our school district is a place of great tolerance, I know we still have work to do. Public schools are largely a reflection of our society. Today in the West Chester Area School District, parents of children of color speak about teaching their sons not to run in public, or not to put up the hood on their sweatshirts, for fear that they will be mistaken for a criminal. They live with this fear because they’ve seen this scenario play out. It’s simply a chance they cannot take. Any parent of a child of color – and any student of color – will tell you that racism, in many forms, still exists in our community.
The superintendent then states that he believes “it’s our responsibility to work to end not only racism, but discrimination, prejudice, and intolerance.” He continues to state that “it should go without saying that hate, disrespect, and intimidation have no place in our schools.”
In a document celebrating Juneteenth called “Chalk It Up,” the school district appears to show support for the “Black Lives Matter” movement. The document states: “We are planning a Juneteenth ‘Chalk it Up’ day in support of our Black students who live with the daily reminders of oppression that began around 400 years ago.” The document then states:
The Black Lives Matter movement began in July 2013 with the killing of Trayvon Martin, a Black teenager, and subsequent acquittal of his killer. Seven years later, we are still hearing the cries of “no justice, no peace”. The Fern Hill community is ready to do our part to support a positive change. We appreciate the community members and the police officers who stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
The school district also has an equity newsletter. In the December 2020 edition, an image is included labeled “Gender-Neutral Terms to Address a Group.” The image includes perceived gender neutral terms, including “peeps,” “folks,” “epic humans,” “gum drops,” “goblins and ghoulies,” “theydies and gentlethems.”
In the May/June 2021 edition, the school district celebrated “Pride Month.” The school district states:
Pride Month is a month-long observance during the month of June in celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people – and the history, culture, and contributions of these individuals in the global community.” The school district continues to state that “Pride Month traces its roots to such protests and specifically commemorates the event known as the Stonewall Riots or the Stonewall Uprising, which is often considered the start of the movement for gay, queer, and transgender rights.
The school district’s website also has a page detailing equity training and events for staff. On August 19, 2019, teachers participated in training on “assessment, instruction, safety, [and] equity.” On November 5, 2019, the school district held a training session for staff titled “Talking to Children about Gender: LGBTQA Issues in the classroom.” The description of this meeting states: “Due to the increasing amount of transgender/gender non-conforming students/families in our district, there is a definite need to be able to address gender in schools.” On January 23, 2020, the school district held teacher training on the book White Fragility by known political activist Robin DiAngelo.
The school district’s website has a page of equity resources for parents, teachers, and adults in general. One resource for parents is titled “Videos to Help to Explain Complex Topics to Young Audiences.” Videos promoted on this page for parents are titled “Be Boldly Anti-Racist,” “How to Talk to Kids About Race,” “How I Teach Kids About Racism (Kindergarten and 1st Grade),” “How Parents Can Help Kids Understand the Protests and Fight Racism,” “Discrimination Explained for Kids,” and “Woke Read Alouds.”
Resources on the equity page for teachers are titled “Culturally Relevant Pedagogy,” “Microaggressions in the Classroom,” and “Welcoming Schools.” The “Welcoming Schools” resource directs teachers to a page titled “Lesson Plans to Create LGBTQ+ Inclusive Classrooms and Schools.” One resource on this page is title “I Am Jazz: Understanding Transgender Children.” The description for this resource explains that it “can help start a conversation with students on what it means to be transgender.” The resource is a document that includes the following guidelines and comments for elementary school teachers:
- Ensure that every child in your classroom is allowed to express themselves however they want, regardless of their gender identity or expression—or any aspect of their identity that may be considered by other students to be “different.”
- Understand that gender is a spectrum, not a binary, and that we all express ourselves in many different ways along that spectrum. Each child is an individual with their own unique expression of who they are in the world.
- Allow students to ask questions. Help clarify the meaning of the word transgender. You can define the word transgender as: when your gender identity (how you feel) is different than what doctors/ midwives assigned to you when you were born (girl/boy, she/he pronouns or sex assigned at birth).
Another resource is titled “Simple Ways to Incorporate LGBTQ+ and Gender Inclusive Material Across the Curriculum.” The resource is a document that encourages teachers to implement LGBTQ issues into social studies, math, music, and even physical education. The document also states that Social Emotional Learning (SEL) sessions “are a wonderful time to include children’s experiences with LGBTQ issues.”
The school district also promotes books for adults written by known political activists on the equity resources page. A few examples include White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, and Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds.
The school district also appears to have a statement on its “Equity Mission” page. This statement reiterates that the school district “STANDS in solidarity to ensure diverse & inclusive curricula & instruction for all students.” The statement also ensures that teachers strive “to CULTIVATE a sense of community in our students through culturally relevant teaching practices.”
The school district additionally promotes a document called “FAQs and Misconceptions about Equity in Education in WCASD.” In this document, the school district explains that Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a “concept/academic theory that is more than 40 years old” and that the school district “does not have a course or a unit of study titled ‘Critical Race Theory’ and does not teach Critical Race Theory.”
This phrasing is a common tactic used by school districts and the media to falsely claim CRT is not taught in schools. The school district may not teach a class called “Critical Race Theory,” but the policies, curriculum changes, and push for racial equity that the school district is pursuing are all core tenets of CRT.
The school district has a “Three-Year Comprehensive Plan” for 2019-2022. The plan mentions “culturally responsive pedagogy” on several occasions. The plan states that “it is important to reflect the diverse backgrounds of our students with a representative professional staff.” The following action steps are then provided to achieve this goal:
- Review policies and implement recruitment practices that target potential staff who reflect our student population and who utilize culturally responsive pedagogy.
- Create hiring teams who can identify culturally responsive pedagogy.
- Maintain a database of information from recent hires to establish supports that promote the retention of staff members who reflect our student population.
The school district offers a resource online called “Trans-Parents Support Group.” A flyer is attached to the page that asks: “Are you the parent of a transgender, or gender questioning child or young adult?” The flyer then states that “we are a group of local parents who meet monthly to support each other through this journey.”
The school district is also promoting SEL through the “Second Step” program. The school district’s website has a document that states it “has been implementing The Second Step program in our schools by grade levels and this year we now have it in all K–5 classrooms across the district.” Second Step states on its website that the organization is “committed to addressing racial injustice and helping you drive real change in your school communities.” The organization also provides resources for educators to implement equity into the classroom. Two of the resources that Second Step offers are called “Talking to Kids About Racial Identity” and “Starting in the Classroom.”
On March 29, 2022, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the district’s “school board voted Monday to keep Gender Queer on its high school library shelves, voicing support for a graphic memoir that has come under fire nationally as parents demand the removal of books with sexually explicit content.” Gender Queer is known for graphic illustrations of sex acts. The news outlet continued to report that “the board voted 8-1” to keep the book in school libraries.
The Philadelphia Inquirer also reported that out of the people supporting the book at the board meeting, one person was “a freshman at West Chester East who identified as a transgender teen.” Another person who spoke in favor of keeping the book in schools was “a young man who said he and his nonbinary partner were considering starting a family in West Chester [and] told the board he hoped the district would be ‘inclusive and truly welcoming.'”