CAMBRIDGE SPRINGS — A request by a teacher to attend an academic conference drew debate at Monday's work session of PENNCREST School Board due to the inclusion of talks on social justice topics at the conference.

Stacey Hetrick, an English teacher at Saegertown Junior-Senior High School, has submitted a request to the school board to attend the Pennsylvania Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts (PCTELA) 2021 conference being held Oct. 22-23 in Harrisburg. According to Superintendent Timothy Glasspool, Hetrick paid for registration at the conference, though the board would have to grant her time off and hire a substitute teacher while she's away.

Board member David Valesky pointed out the inclusion of social justice-focused talks on the conference schedule, such as a one titled "Building an Anti-Racist Lens in Your Classroom" and another called "Elevating Diversity Starting within the Traditional Curriculum." 

Valesky called such talks an example of critical race theory (CRT), a subject which the board is considering a policy to effectively ban its teaching.

"This is what CRT is," Valesky said. "They're not going to call it CRT in this, but this is exactly what it is."

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, CRT is an “intellectual movement and loosely organized framework of legal analysis based on the premise that race is not a natural, biologically grounded feature of physically distinct subgroups of human beings but a socially constructed (culturally invented) category that’s used to oppress and exploit people of colour [sic].”

Board member Robert Gulick, however, felt Valesky was focusing on only "one small part" of the conference, pointing out that there were several other talks available that aren't focused on social justice.

"I see 16 to 20 different categories of seminars that they're going to have," Gulick said. "You're focusing on one or two. A lot of them look like they might be very, very helpful."

According to the schedule of the conference, posted to the PCTELA website, there is one category of the conference called "Social Justice Movements in Literacy Education." However, the talks under that category are held concurrently with other talks in other parts of the conference space.

For example, at the same time as the aforementioned "Building an Anti-Racist Lens in Your Classroom" talk, there are four other talks also going on, including "9th Grade Experience: Preparing Students for High School and Beyond" and "How Do I Foster a 'Growth Mindset' in the ELA Classroom Today?"

Board President Luigi DeFrancesco suggested the board get more information on the topic ahead of its vote at tonight's meeting set for 7 at Cambridge Springs Junior-Senior High School.

Sean P. Ray can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at sray@meadvilletribune.com.

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