This story originally appeared on 6ABC.
When someone forwarded Brandyn Campbell a petition calling for the end of diversity programs in her child’s school district, she felt hurt and disappointed.
“It made my stomach sink, honestly,” she said.
The petition is titled “NLTE DASD Petition for the Removal of the DEI Program at DASD.” Among other things, it accuses the school board of being unable to explain how equity is defined and applied and alleges that the school board skipped those steps when it hired a director of diversity, equity and inclusion.
“I think it’s a response to the fact that our country is changing,” said Campbell, a parent in the district who also works with the nonprofit group Chester County Marching Forward.
“The small minority of people who are displeased about something are making the most noise,” she said.
The petition has gotten 254 signatures as of late Wednesday afternoon but the issue of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Downingtown Schools has garnered many more comments on the district’s Facebook page. Some of it comes from parents praising the program. Other comments come from people who accuse it of being wrong and connected to Critical Race Theory, which opponents like the Pennsylvania Family Institute say is divisive.
“Why are we teaching white children that they will always be oppressors and they need to apologize or repent for their whiteness,” said Cheryl Allen, who serves as an attorney for the Pennsylvania Family Institute.
Campbell disagrees with the notion of CRT teaching children solely on the concept of oppressed vs. oppressor.
“My children are biracial. They are black and white. There’s no way I would want my children to think that half of who they are is inherently bad and half of who they are is inherently weak,” said Campbell.
Critical Race Theory is a complex framework that examines how U.S. Law intersects with race. It is more likely to be found in law school than in an elementary classroom. Still, some Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers seeking to ban it in schools.
“It will serve to divide, deconstruct, dismantle and destroy the system as we know it,” said Allen of CRT.
Opponents commenting in the Downingtown district allege CRT is already part of the district’s curriculum. District officials say that’s not true.
“We are not teaching critical race theory in our schools,” said Jennifer Shealy, director of communications for the Downingtown Area School District. “In our school schools, what we’re teaching is kindness, compassion, understanding, empathy and listening.”
One sticking point for people who insist the district is already teaching CRT is a list of books that the district put out as a resource for parents who want to discuss race with their children. The district says that list isn’t required or even recommended reading. It’s just there as a resource for parents seeking materials to discuss race with their children.
The district has put more effort into Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which sometimes comes through conversations with students.
“I went to Downingtown Area School District and I didn’t think there were any diversity issues when I was here, but when I started hearing some of the stories that happened to students, it was heartbreaking,” said Shealy.
In response to the petition, Campbell asked parents who support diversity efforts to show up at Wednesday night’s meeting. District officials are expecting a lot of comments on the topic, even though there is no issue up for a school board vote.
Get daily updates from WHYY News!