National social issues ignite North Andover School Committee race

School board campaigns often revolved around school budget cuts, or large class sizes, or if schools serve dumplings for lunch too often. But the race for a seat on the North Andover school board this year has turned into a heated debate over national social issues.

Both Joe Hicks and Kevin Dube are running for that seat. Both have run for the committee before — Dube in 2020 and Hicks in 2021 — but this time they’re running for the only seat open for election.

Rosemary Smedile, member of the board of directors, presented herself without opposition.

And social issues such as LGBTQ student rights and critical race theory have come to the fore in this local election, with Dube seizing on them and Hicks – an openly gay father of two – hitting back.

Critical Race Theory

At the March 11 League of Women Voters forum, candidates were asked how they would handle social issues such as LGBTQ students, sex education and teaching about race.

Critical race theory is a field of study that dates back decades and draws on the work of ancient jurists, including Derrick Bell Jr., Richard Delgado and others, examining the impact of laws and past business practices about race on the lives of racial minorities. in the present.

The phrase “critical race theory” originated in the late 1980s at a conference in Wisconsin focusing on this earlier work.

After protests erupted across the country following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, discussions of America’s past with racism and critical race theory have surfaced in across the country, in think tanks and on television.

The North Andover Republican Town Committee held Rotary signs near the township in support of 9/11 law enforcement.  From left to right, John Milligan, Wendy Wakeman, Kevin Dube and Paul Gangi.

Although critical race theory is taught in graduate schools and law schools, conservatives have since seized on critical race theory as a cultural issue, claiming that the field of study portrays white people as evil and is taught to public school children from kindergarten through 12th grade.

And in general, liberals say that critical race theory is advanced university-level study and not forced upon children in schools, and that it’s important to examine America’s racial history. to move forward in the fight against racism today.

“There are a lot of warts in US history, there are a lot of warts in world history, and those should all be taught,” Dube told the LWV Forum. “People who don’t learn history don’t learn it. We have to learn from history so that we don’t make the same mistakes.

“At the same time, people are using a lot of these methods to advance an agenda that shouldn’t be promoted in schools,” he continued.

Hicks countered by saying that critical race theory is not a local school problem.

“CRT is not taught in our schools. It just doesn’t happen,” Hicks said. “To say that is the case would be a lie.

“It is important that children know what happened in our country. History is not just a story about what happened in the past, and not even about who we are in the present, but about what we are going to do in the future,” Hicks said. “We cannot make good choices about the society we want to be unless we examine ourselves critically.”

Then Dube replied that critical race theory “is absolutely” taught in North Andover schools. Dube said he was told there was a lesson in intersectionality – a concept that emerged with critical race theory which says an individual’s different identities create a unique perspective in the world – is proof that critical race theory is being taught.

“Intersectionality being one of the core tenets of critical race theory,” Dube said.

He also pointed out that North Andover schools presented students with a biography of Kimberle Krenshaw, one of the jurists at that Wisconsin conference at which the term “critical race theory” was coined.

“People have told me that books by Ibrahim Kendi have also been featured, and he is one of the critical race theorists. So, yeah, it’s there,” Dube said.

Hicks denied that critical race theory is found in North Andover schools and embraced the idea of ​​discussing intersectional social dynamics.

“Critical race theory is an academic-level concept that they’re talking about on a legal level among academics,” Hicks said. “That’s not what we teach in our classrooms.”

Hicks said he sees no harm in letting children consider how different parts of their identity intersect to give them unique experiences and perspectives and said it even allows them to be more active in the community.

“The idea of ​​intersectionality is the idea that my identity as a gay man, as a white man, and as a Catholic raised in Connecticut and now living in Massachusetts is very special to me,” said he declared. “And we combine those things together to get my unique experience in this world, just like anybody else is going to have a unique experience. Where those things come together, that intersection is the idea.

“Signs of disrespect”

Students from middle and high schools across the city submitted a question to the LWV forum about acceptance of LGBTQ youth — specifically, the lack of gender-neutral restrooms and “signs of disrespect at celebrations of different cultures” — and how applicants would ensure that the schools are more welcoming.

“Trans students exist, and giving them the support they need is absolutely essential,” Hicks replied. “The idea that a young person shouldn’t be able to have a safe place to use the facilities is hurtful, and it just can’t be.”

Joe Hicks, one of the organizers of the North Andover Pride Project, introduces the speakers at the Pride Flag Ceremony on the North Andover Common.

Last June, the city displayed the LGBTQ Pride flag on the Town Common, and during the ceremony, gay, transgender and non-binary students spoke of bullying and even attempted suicide. Shortly after, an anonymous letter loaded with swastikas and homophobic language was found on the doorstep of a resident who had displayed the LGBTQ Pride flag at her home.

It was the second time in less than two months that residents reported anti-LGBTQ harassment and the discovery of Nazi symbols in the city.

“And we need to make sure that when signs of disrespect occur in our city and state, we recognize that they are inappropriate and hurtful. They create division in our community and they alienate our citizens and our students. And it is not a place where we would want our children to be educated.

Dube agreed that respect and inclusion — two parts of the district’s RAISE acronym — should be emphasized so that no student feels left out or unsafe because of their identity. And he said that when bullying and other incidents happen, parents need to be contacted and children need to be taught that it’s not okay.

Another controversial topic these days is LGBTQ inclusive sex education.

Hicks went on to say that health education, including gender-affirming health education and non-binary recognition, should be accessible to students so they can better understand their bodies and their identities.

Dube said he had no comment on the matter.

You can watch the entire LWV Candidate Forum at North Andover CAM.

Training effect

National debates about gender, sexual orientation and race have not only seeped into local school committee races nationwide, but they have also spilled over onto social media. And North Andover is no exception.

Dube, who had no response to the mention of LGBTQ-inclusive sex ed, voiced his opposition on Facebook, according to screenshots Wicked Local received from multiple people.

And on several North Andover Facebook groups, residents have been at all-out war over these issues, with residents engaging in verbal brawls over racial education and gender-affirming policies in schools.

Recently, for example, on the North Andover Dads Facebook PageJennifer Knapp – via Jennifer Noel online, sparked a firestorm of responses when she posted about LGBTQ inclusive sex ed and urged residents to vote for Dube, accusing Hicks of supporting students “cutting body parts” after posting a link to a psychiatric journal on transgender health care for minors.

The North Andover Local Election will take place on Tuesday 29th March, with all voting taking place at North Andover Secondary School.