Controversy brewing at Westchester school district over assignment based on book addressing racism

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Friday, November 4, 2022
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Some parents in a Westchester County school system are not happy about their children being taught about race. Marcus Solis has the story.

SOMERS, New York (WABC) -- The superintendent of one school district in Westchester County stopped and English class mid-lesson after getting complaints from parents.

An optional handout during the 10th-grade English class at Somers High School sparked outrage among parents who were texted pictures by their children of journal prompts.

They included questions like: How does your white fragility show up in conversations about race? Have you ever weaponized your fragility against people of color?

The assignment was based on "Me and White Supremacy" - a book meant to combat racism.

"Most of them weren't questions, they were statements: you are a racist," parent Sarah Kooluris said.

However the book is not approved for instruction - the superintendent added the district was unaware of the lesson and the excerpts were pulled from use in the classroom.

But the assignment is part of a larger controversy - opposition to the hiring of the district's new DEI head, Susan Gonzowitz, the former managing director of the East Harlem Teaching Residency.

She's the coauthor of a different book aimed at educators called "Teaching as Protest."

Critics label Gonzowitz a divisive figure.

"We want DEI, we want Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, but this person and the way the school has gone about things like this is what's causing the problem," parent Dom DeMartino said.

While some parents argue DEI instruction shouldn't focus solely on race, others say the northern Westchester community is in need of having difficult conversations.

"My kids have been enduring for years antisemitism in Somers from other students," parent Elana Sofko said.

Hundreds have signed an online petition calling for the formation of a committee to oversee the Board of Education, but some parents say the opposition represents a small minority.

"Susan seems incredibly qualified and I would love to see her given the chance to do her job," parent Cameron McClure said.

Whether that happens remains to be seen.

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