Merrimack Valley debates, then defeats ban on teaching Critical Race Theory

  • The Merrimack Valley School Board answers residents’ questions on how COVID-19 relief money was allocated. Josh Morrill / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 3/5/2022 4:53:05 PM
Modified: 3/5/2022 4:52:30 PM

When a number of Merrimack Valley parents stood up at their annual meeting to voice their opinions on a warrant article restricting the teaching Critical Race Theory and other controversial historical racial topics, Sean McConaughey took to the microphone to let the community know he thinks censorship is not the answer.

McConaughey, currently a senior at Merrimack County High School, said today’s students have the capacity to learn about Critical Race Theory and other complex race-related theories in U.S. history, as he believes students have the capacity to think individually.

“I personally don't have a problem with teachers teaching (Critical Race Theory) …there are a couple seniors who are in the process of bringing a debate team right now,” McConaughey said Friday night. “And as far as kids questioning, no kids have had a problem with talking to the teacher directly. Kids aren't scared to speak up during history classes and address these controversial topics. And I think that's why we should teach them.”

The most extensive dialogue of the night came from this warrant article aiming to ban the typically college-level academic concept formulated by civil-rights activists and scholars. It was originally formulated to examine the convergence of race and law in America, and other “derivative philosophies.”

Many of the Merrimack Valley meeting-goers were in agreement that an outright ban was unnecessary, as Critical Race Theory is not currently part of the school district’s curriculum. However, they added trust needs to given to teachers, who should be given the freedom to use their skills and training to prompt critical thinking within the curriculum.

David Nesbitt, a recently retired history teacher at the high school, was adamant that he and the rest of the staff at the high school have tried to ensure that students are getting a wide array of historical perspectives in class, and that there is no need to censor educators.

“I remember a parent at one point in time telling me just teach the facts, but there's a lot of facts, and sometimes they contradict each other,” Nesbitt said. “So, I appreciate the fact that we understand that our history is complicated. And that's one of the things that I and my colleagues tried very hard to work with our students to understand.”

While she also believes that the teaching of Critical Race Theory shouldn’t be banned in Merrimack County, longtime Loudon resident Cherice Grinnell wanted to ensure that her kids are getting a proficient historical education.

“We're living in a very historical time,” she said. “We're more divided now than I've ever seen in my 40 years of life...I think it's very important that we teach history, we teach the truth about what has happened. We teach our kids how that was not okay. We teach them that just because they were born a certain way, they don’t need to bend down and apologize for what forefathers did.”

The article was overwhelmingly voted down.

Besides that debate, the rest of Merrimack Valley School District’s meeting ran relatively smoothly considering recent quarrels about mask mandates, which have since been dropped.

Residents from Boscawen, Louden, Penacook, Salisbury and Webster began the 7 p.m. meeting once again voting down “SB 2,” a ballot voting system that would change the structure of the district’s annual meeting, with the opportunity to deliberate at one meeting and then vote on issues later at the ballot box.

The general sentiment on the current meeting structure was, “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” This was the third time in four years that SB 2 was on the town warrant and defeated.

Despite multiple residents describing their financial struggles caused by inflation, the school district’s increased budget for the 2022-23 school year was approved by a vote of 183-56 after a petition for a secret, balloted vote was submitted.

The budget was originally $44.1 million, but was lowered slightly to $43.8 million after it was determined raises for support staff would come from other funding sources. The deal was collectively bargained by the school board and the Merrimack Valley Support Staff Association prior to the meeting.

The $645,023 increase in the budget from the 2021-22 school year will result in a slight ($0.95-$1.75) tax increase for Boscawen, Penacook, Salisbury, Webster, while Loudon’s tax rate decreased by $0.15.

Some residents voiced that they would’ve liked to see no increase in the budget, but recognized support staff have been underpaid for many years. Most agreed they deserved more money with the extra work they have had to take on during the pandemic.

An article to transfer $300,000 into the Maintenance Expendable Trust Fund was also passed, as Fred Reagan, operations and maintenance director for the school district, emphasized how large and old the school district’s infrastructure is and despite financial issues, there is a need for continued improvements.

“I need that $300,000,” he said. “We have $100 million worth of property, and it needs to be maintained. You people asked for this. You want us to stockpile money and we did. I was very aggressive last year. We need this money.”

The school received funding from the federal government’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund to aid with the effects of COVID-19 on the district. Residents questioned where that money was going and why the extra $300,000 was needed.

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Randy Warmold and Reagan both ensured that the money went to improvements that would’ve otherwise been pushed further down the line. This included heating, ventilation and air conditioning improvements.

The meeting concluded with the decision to not pass an article that would’ve forced school board members and administrators to hold a bilateral question and answer session with Merrimack Valley residents at every school board meeting going forward. Multiple residents thought there were already enough opportunities to get questions answered from the board.

“There is an open public comment opportunity at every single board meeting, as well as a public comment opportunity at all of the commit tee meetings that we have,” Superintendent of  Schools Mark MacLean said.

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