A public school district near Rochester, New York, informed parents this week that their children will be participating in a new “anti-racist” curriculum that was overseen in part by a local Black Lives Matter leader who made headlines last summer when she declared, “I don’t care if the whole city burned down” during unrest in Rochester.
West Irondequoit Central School District emailed the parents of fourth and eighth grade students about a “new learning opportunity in which your child will be engaging this spring” centering around the “contemporary realities of structural racism.”
The lesson plans caused consternation among some who claimed that parents were not given a chance to voice their opinion against the ideas in the curriculum or even simply opt out.
The curriculum explores the history of racism and civil rights in Rochester, such as redlining in Monroe County, but it also appears to focus heavily on present-day structural racism and aims to give students “an opportunity to build a more just and equitable community.”
The school district assured parents in its email that the lesson plan contains “age-appropriate materials and experiences” from which students are encouraged to “draw their own conclusions.”
One of the members of the advisory board the school put together to supervise the crafting of the anti-racist curriculum is Ashley Gantt, a prominent Black Lives Matter leader in Rochester.
Gantt, an organizer with the Rochester area chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union, made a splash last summer when she chastised members of the media for asking about whether there was talk of looting or burning property during violent unrest in Rochester.
“If there was looting, if there was things on fire, that is not what is important. What is important is why these things happen,” Gantt said, telling the media they have a job “to make sure that’s the story that’s heard.”
She referenced the riots that swept metropolitan areas across the country the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. died, noting that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed just months later.
“I am just tired of you guys not putting the correct narrative out there,” she said. “I don’t care if the whole city burned down. We need justice.”
Gantt later attempted to soften her remarks, saying that “of course” she does not want people to set the city on fire, but she does want people to understand that when it comes to “sustainable change, sometimes we have to do whatever it takes to get it.”
Gantt also cofounded Free the People Roc, an activist group born from the Rochester Black Lives Matter movement that describes itself as “building on the legacy of Black liberation movements” and works to defund the police. In September, Gantt was arrested and charged with criminal trespassing for attempting to get into a press conference by Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren at the city’s police department headquarters that was only allowing in credentialed media. The charges were later dropped.
“We recognize that you may have questions or want to know more about this learning experience,” read the email to parents about the new curriculum from Christina Miga, assistant superintendent for instruction at West Irondequoit.
The educators behind the conceptualization of the curriculum also worked with educators and community leaders to develop a lesson plan for students as young as second-grade about the current reality of structural racism.
Teachers at West Irondequoit, meanwhile, this week were given “professional development to learn how to better build a culturally responsive and anti-racist classroom and curriculum.”