- The Washington Times
Thursday, July 29, 2021

A committee formed to craft sweeping “anti-racist” policies for a Rhode Island school district has refused to make its meetings public, prompting another legal challenge between those seeking to impose critical race theory in K-12 education and concerned parents and taxpayers.

The issue in Rhode Island’s South Kingstown School District again pits the mother of a kindergartner there, Nicole Solas, against the combined weight of progressive administrators who have paid at least $5,000 so far to an outside consultant to run the policy-making committee.

Ms. Solas, who garnered national attention after speaking against CRT at a committee meeting in June, is now represented by the conservative Goldwater Institute. She filed her complaint with the Rhode Island attorney general after she was told she could not attend weekly meetings of the BIPOC Advisory Board, a group that began meeting last September to propose new policies for hiring, athletics, discipline and a host of other concerns for the K-12 public schools there.

The board is led by Robin Wildman, founder of Nonviolent Schools Rhode Island, who has been paid $7,474 for her services through June 30, according to school vendor records. It is expected to finish its work by August, and thus far the South Kingstown School Committee has given preliminary approval to the Board’s proposed changes to its discrimination policy.

In a May interview with The Collective, a left-wing bookstore and “organizing space” in Peace Dale, Rhode Island, Ms. Wildman said she approached the school district with the idea for a “BIPOC group that would look at policies and practices and make recommendations to create a more inclusive, antiracist district.” BIPOC is an acronym that stands for Black, Indigenous and people of color.

A retired 5th-grade teacher, Ms. Wildman said she believes teaching and activism go hand-in-hand. 

“I believe in working for justice, not equal rights,” she said, saying that systemic racism means “the vast majority of those that control all of the systems in our country are White. 

“Justice means breaking down the oppressive systems that prevent BIPOC from accessing opportunities in your community that White people have,” Ms. Wildman said.

Ms. Solas said she learned of the board’s existence through a local news report, and that Ms. Wildman was being paid to “facilitate” the board’s meetings.

“When I learned that this board existed and was getting paid to revise school policies I asked to come and see the meetings and was told they are not open,” Ms. Solas said. “For a year now, they have been squeezing all their policies through the lens of anti-racism and essentially injecting racism into everything.”

“Anti-racism” is a rapidly growing educational philosophy based on critical race theory, itself a recasting of U.S. history that supporters say rightfully puts slavery and racism at the center of the American experience. Critics, though, have decried the movement’s shoddy scholarship and warned parents that the leftist ideology is little more than warmed-over Marxism filled with anti-American propaganda.  

Last June, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a then-Minneapolis police officer, the South Kingstown School Committee declared its adherence to critical race theory in a public “Message of Solidarity.”

“Critical knowledge, radical empathy and institutional action are non-negotiable,” the former chairwoman Stephanie Canter wrote. “This is not a time for platitudes and distractions. This is a time for active anti-racism, nothing less.”

While some of those demands have surfaced for Committee discussion since then, Ms. Solas contends the School Committee and K-12 administrators have consistently sought to dodge public scrutiny of their actions. Earlier this year, the Committee threatened to sue Ms. Solas after she filed some 200 public records requests, and when the Goldwater Institute took over the case and requested public records and emails it was told the latter would cost more than $74,000 to provide.

“We’re still dealing with that,” said Jon Riches, an attorney with the Goldwater Institute.

The School District did not respond to phone calls Thursday. Its superintendent recently resigned, as did Committee Chairwoman Emily Cummiskey, who said the atmosphere was too fraught with dissension.

The question about the BIPOC Advisory Board could become moot if the Rhode Island Democratic attorney general Peter Neronha does not rule before its weekly meetings conclude, although there are legal remedies should the courts rule the Board’s taxpayer-funded meetings should have been open to the public, Mr. Riches said.

Calls and emails to Mr. Neronha’s office were not returned Thursday.

• James Varney can be reached at jvarney@washingtontimes.com.

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