H.R. 1319 a.k.a. The American Rescue Plan (ARP), created a pool of money that each state can distribute to K-12 schools to reopen after COVID. Pennsylvania received approximately $5 billion of those of funds. If a school district, referred to as an education agency in the bill, receives funds from it, they are required to provide "evidence-based interventions" and "respond to students’ academic, social, and emotional needs". This sounds nice and cuddly doens't it? But it is the definitions of those terms that are troubling. Here is my assessment of the requirements to receive those funds.
The ARP states that local educational agencies (i.e., school districts) that receive funds under this section "shall reserve not less than 20 percent of such funds to address learning loss through the implementation of evidence-based interventions" (Title II Subtitle A Part 1 Section 2001(e)(1), emphasis mine). So, the question is: what are "evidence-based interventions"? Lucky for us, they provided that information for us as well. They expectation is in a handbook called ED COVID-19 HANDBOOK Roadmap to Reopening Safely and Meeting All Students’ Needs. Before I get into that, notice that it also says "Volume 2"; what is volume 1? It is ED COVID-19 HANDBOOK Strategies for Safely Reopening Elementary and Secondary Schools. Volume 1 referred to masking, distancing, bussing, etc. Did the school follow those guidelines? Or did it take them as simply suggestions/recommendations? Looks to me that it followed them in their entirety. If they decided not to have a mask policy or a social distancing policy, could they have reopened? How would the Department of Education (DOE) or State of Pennsylvania respond if they ignored that handbook? Why would it be assumed volume 2 be taken any different?
I want to note that nothing in either of these documents scream "you must do this;" however, nothing screams "it is optional" either. Volume 1 is obviously what the DOE wanted in regards to reopening after COVID-19 shutdowns. So, it makes sense to assume the same in ragards to Volume 2 and ARP funding.
Volume 2 describes the DOEs working definition of "evidence-based interventions". The introduction begins with "Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has exacerbated existing inequities" and that it had a "more damaging impact on communities and people of color" (p. 1, par. 1). So right from the start we know that this is aimed at "people of color". The introduction then says that with "the passage of ARP, states, districts, and schools now have a significant federal resource available to implement evidence-based and practitioner-informed strategies" (p. 1, para. 2, emphasis mine). The DOE uses the rest of the document to explain what they considered to be those strategies.
So, how do they want reopening to happen? Just reading the document, without references, it mostly sounds nice, reasonable and a no-brainer. However, when you read the supporting information (in the form of external links), you start to get the picture. Without going into every link, many, maybe even the majority, refer to terms such as "social justice", "equality," "equity", "systemic racism", "systemic bias", "restorative justice", etc. These are all buzzwords used by Critical Race Theory (CRT) and 1619 Project advocates. Some of the links would be considered just plain laughable if they weren’t so serious about it. The most glaring of them is on the bottom of page 9. At the end of the page, it reads "Schools are microcosms of society; therefore, culturally responsive practices, intentional conversations related to race and social emotional learning" are necessary. The phrase "culturally response practices" is an interesting one. What does that mean? Many teacher training documents say that CRT "serves as a foundation" for "culturally response practices". The phrase "race and social emotional learning" is a link that opens the Abolitionist Teaching Network (ATN) and a document called a Guide for Racial Justice & Abolitionist Social and Emotional Learning (dated August 2020). That is where the majority of a whole host of problematic wording enters the picture.
The DOE endorsed guide published by ATN explains that traditional Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is built around five key "competencies" or "standards": "self-awareness", "self-management", "relationship skills" and "responsible decision-making". The "abolitionist" approach contends that traditional "SEL can be a covert form of policing used to punish, criminalize, and control Black, Brown, and Indigenous children and communities to adhere to White norms." In order to bring about this shift, this "guide" presents many recommendations, including:
"Partner with and compensate community members to develop and implement Abolitionist SEL models."
"Remove all punitive or disciplinary practices that spirit murder Black, Brown and Indigenous children."
"Requir[e] a commitment to learning from students, families, and educations who disrupt Whiteness and other forms of oppression"
"Free, antiracist therapy for White educators and support staff."
"Free, radical self/collective care and therapy for Educators and Support Staff of Color."
"Teaching standards, learning standards, and teacher evaluations that are grounded in the pursuit of Black, Brown, and Indigenous liberation, criticality, excellence, and joy"
These are clearly racists in their origin and pushing the CRT teaching. Some of these recommendations are even illegal under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Schools may not define a race as inherently oppressive or provide race-specific therapeutic services premised on race-specific mental illnesses. None the less, this is what the DOE endorses as a direction for school districts.
Officials connected with the administration at all levels have repeated the idea of "systemic racism", "anti-racism", "diversity, equity, and inclusion", "social emotional learning", "critical self-awareness", etc. on multiple occasions. The intelligence agencies have even said that "white supremacy" is the most pressing problem in the U.S. right now; even above terrorism. All those terms are various names for CRT and its concepts.
Volume 1 didn’t contain "suggestions" that school districts could choose to ignore; nothing indicates Volume 2 does either. Simply put, Volume 2, from top to bottom, wants CRT and Abolitionist teachings placed into schools in exchange for COVID-19 "relief" funding.
Will the district be taking this money allocated by ARP? To date, the board has not answered my questions regarding their acceptance or not. If they do accept it and report back to the state (who will report to the DOE), what do you think the DOE will do if the school doesn’t implement their "recommendations" as a condition of accepting the funds? Probably the same thing they would do if they didn’t follow the masking or social distancing "recommendations" from volume 1.
If the district does take ARP monies, how will the board implement the required "evidence-based interventions"? They have so far refused to answer.