Two Rhode Island teachers encouraged their students to testify against a bill that would ban critical race theory from the classroom. One teacher offered students extra credit in exchange for their testimony.
In March, the Rhode Island House of Representatives’ Education Committee held a hearing on a bill related to critical race theory. According to the concerned parent organization Parents Defending Education (PDE), the group was notified that over 100 students from Barrington High School signed up to testify. However, fewer than 40 answered their phones when called to express their opinions.
PDE was told that “one student answered the phone and admitted he did not have anything to say but had signed up because his teacher asked him to do so.”
The organization submitted a Freedom of Information request with Barrington High School and uncovered that two teachers sent emails to their students encouraging them to testify on the bill that they cast in a negative light.
Social studies teacher Alison Grieco offered students five extra credit points on their next exam if they signed up to testify.
“I have just learned that H6070 is in committee in the RI House of Representatives. This bill essentially states that there should be no discussion of race or gender in classrooms … If you want to talk on this bill, you have only until 4PM today to sign up to talk,” Greico wrote. “I strongly urge you to testify on this bill tomorrow … As always, if you are a student in my class, you will receive 5 points on your next unit test if you decide to testify and provide me with your written testimony.”
Jennifer Bergevine, a colleague in the English department, also sent an email to students encouraging them to share their opinions about critical race theory for her testimony.
“I just heard about H 6070 which is scheduled for hearing and consideration TOMORROW in front of the RI House Committee on Education,” Bergevine said. “Essentially it prohibits the teaching of ‘divisive concepts’ as well as prohibiting making ‘any individual feel discomfort, guilty, anguish or any distress on account of their race or sex.’”
Bergevine continued by claiming she would not be able to teach about race and gender if this bill passed.
“If this passes I would no longer be able to teach the unit on Race or Gender … As I prepare my [opposition] statement, I would like to be able to include student voices,” Bergevine said. “Please feel free to share with me what you believe is the benefit of potentially ‘divisive concepts’ such as Race and Gender.”
PDE claims that the teachers were forcing their negative views of the bill onto their students by the way that the assignment was presented.
Following these accusations from PDE, Greico penned an email to Barrington High School’s principal stating that she “never promoted one opinion over the other.”
Superintendent Mike Messore told a local news outlet that students were not forced to partake in the testimony and claimed that the teachers were not making “a political statement.”
“Our government students are given an assignment every year. I looked at the assignment. Nowhere does it tell them what they have to do. Some students knew about the bill and they wanted to testify. The teacher wasn’t looking to make a political statement,” Messore said.