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Amid CRT, diversity debate, this southwest Ohio district is auditing its curriculum



Lakota Local Schools has a new community curriculum advisory team, made up of community representatives each selected by a different school board member.

Their goal? Audit Lakota’s curriculum.

See the photos:Lakota board member took 55 pictures during ‘unannounced’ school visits

But what does that entail? Going through each subject and grade level’s curriculum would take years. And the buck doesn’t stop with this team. Any suggestions they make are only that: suggestions. District administrators and the school board would have to approve any adjustments.

Lakota Local Schools' community curriculum advisory team will meet monthly.

Here’s what we know about this new team, its responsibilities and how curriculum building works at Lakota.

Why is Lakota conducting a curriculum audit?

Board member Darbi Boddy has claimed since her campaign in 2021 that the district promotes critical race theory, a college-level legal framework that suggests racism is a systemic issue rather than an individual bias. But some critics of the theory, like Boddy, often conflate it with other terms, such as diversity, inclusion, equity and anti-racism, and say critical race theory harms students when used in K-12 classrooms.

Educators across the country, including those at Lakota, have repeatedly said critical race theory is not part of the curriculum in K-12 classrooms.

In an attempt to get to the bottom of the dispute, the board approved in a 3-2 vote a resolution for a critical race theory audit last September. Board members Kelley Casper and Julie Shaffer voted against the proposal.

The original proposal was for an outside party, Virginia-based nonprofit Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, to conduct the audit in exchange for $82,500. The board amended that proposal, making it an internal curriculum audit to save money.

Who is on Lakota Local Schools’ community curriculum advisory team?

The community curriculum advisory team is made up of five individuals, each selected by one of the district’s school board members. Each appointee must be a current Lakota resident, at least 21 years old, have some education or related experience and cannot be a current Lakota employee.

Michael Albrecht was recommended by board member Shaffer. According to his selection form, Albrecht is a Lakota graduate and parent who works at Butler Tech as the supervisor of transition programs.

Regina McCall was recommended by board member Casper. McCall is a Lakota parent who works in a neighboring school district.

Ian Murray was recommended by board vice president Isaac Adi. Murray is a Lakota graduate and parent, and president of the family-owned business SpotOn Productions.

Vanessa Wells was recommended by board member Boddy. Wells is a Lakota parent who unsuccessfully ran for school board in 2021. She currently has an open Ohio Supreme Court case against Lakota’s school board over a records dispute. Wells is also the community member who filed a complaint with the Butler County Sheriff’s Office last year that accused former superintendent Matt Miller of wrongdoing. Two separate investigations did not find proof to charge Miller criminally or dismiss him from his role as superintendent. Miller resigned in January.

Diane Wiater was recommended by board president Lynda O’Connor. She’s spent 25 years in higher education and founded her own consulting group in 2004. Wiater does not have children in the district. She told The Enquirer she’s lived in the community for 10 years.

What is the goal of Lakota’s community curriculum advisory team?

Board members seem to have different goals for the community curriculum advisory team.

In their selection forms, Shaffer wrote she hopes the team will “dispel misinformation,” while Boddy wrote she hopes the team can find critical race theory and recommend how to improve students’ grades without “being indoctrinated.”

Lakota Local Schools Board of Education members Julie Shaffer, left, and Darbi Boddy, right.

Casper’s goal for the advisory team is to ensure teachers have the best resources and materials “to meet the needs of all Lakota students.” Adi and O’Connor provided lists of goals, both of which mentioned developing a rubric to evaluate inquiries and concerns about curriculum and creating an ongoing, multi-year curriculum review schedule.

Lori Brown, who was named executive director of curriculum and instruction at Lakota in April, said she’s looking for the team to bring in concerns from the community and help the district identify priorities to look at in reviewing or changing its curriculum.

How much power does the community curriculum advisory team have?

The community curriculum advisory team will give recommendations to the district’s curriculum team, Brown said. That team is composed of Brown, a K-6 curriculum director, a 7-12 curriculum director and three assistant directors.

“It’s a way for us to get community input before we make a decision or as we’re making a decision,” she said. “It wouldn’t necessarily impact teachers directly, right away.”

Wait, what even is curriculum? And how is it balanced with teacher autonomy?

Brown said people often confuse curriculum with instruction.

Curriculum is a series of topics and standards, she said. “What are we going to teach?” Instruction is “how are we going to teach it?”

Curricular documents and daily lesson plans are developed by teachers with oversight from Brown and her team, who provide resources for teachers to use.

There’s a balance, she said, in keeping classroom learning consistent but also allowing flexibility for teachers to reach students who might require different instructional tools.

Can teachers use any materials they want in the classroom?

“We steer teachers toward what’s been Lakota approved and adopted and purchased,” Brown said.

But teachers frequently pull materials from articles, videos, music and other sources.

Brown said there is a form teachers are encouraged to fill out when they use an outside material so her team can vet it and make sure it aligns with the curriculum − and even share it with other teachers if it’s a good tool. Media such as books, articles and movies should be reviewed, she said, but “not everything goes through that process.” She said “real world learning,” like talking through a current event that relates to a topic in the curriculum, wouldn’t need to be submitted for approval.

How many complaints does Lakota’s curriculum team get per year?

Brown said her team usually deals with four to five curriculum complaints per year.

There likely are concerns, she said, that don’t rise to her level. A parent’s first stop is typically with the teacher, who will often answer questions or make accommodations at a parent’s request.

Some complaints that do rise to Brown’s team lack context, she said. For example, she once received a complaint about one-sided political cartoons being used in a classroom. But when they investigated, Brown said she found there were cartoons from both sides of the issue presented to the class.

How does community scrutiny impact teachers?

Teachers are cautious about the materials they choose, Brown said, because of how things can be taken out of context or spun in a negative light. She’s heard reservations from teachers about building new materials and “having their names on it.”

“They want to be partners with parents. They want to work together. They want to be transparent,” she said. “But I think they are just worried about context.”

What’s the timeline for the curriculum audit?

The community curriculum advisory team will meet every other month, and current members were asked for a two year commitment.

After that, Brown said she expects new members to be appointed and for the audit to be an ongoing collaboration with the Lakota community.

The first meeting was held on Monday. The team determined they’d like to gather more input from the community to set priorities moving forward, possibly through a community conversation or survey.

The next meeting will be held in either June or July, Brown said.

Are the community curriculum advisory team meetings public?

Yes. Brown said the meetings will be treated as board committee meetings, meaning they will be noticed with agendas and minutes recorded. The meetings will be open to the public, but will not have time set aside for public comment.

The meetings will not be video recorded or livestreamed by the district.

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