Judicial Watch: Montgomery County Schools Teacher Training Records Show Lessons on ‘Restorative Justice’ and ‘Psychoeducation’
(Washington, DC) Judicial Watch announced today that it received two sets of new records related to the teaching of critical race theory in Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), Maryland’s largest school system.The new records include a training course with information about a book titled “Antiracist Baby” that introduces the youngest readers to “the concept and power of antiracism,” and says it’s the “perfect gift” for “ages baby to age 3.”
The new documents also include information from a course titled, “Digital Literacy 3” at Thomas Pyle Middle School. The course’s curriculum includes activities where the children discuss the identification of their gender, religion, and sexual orientation. The course also includes the children using “propaganda” to lead social justice movements.
The documents were obtained in response to a Judicial Watch Maryland Public Information Act request for:
All records related to the development and implementation of a “Psychoeducational Lesson” related to a purported “dual pandemic” of Covid- 19/systemic racism in use by the Montgomery County Public Schools. Such records shall include, but not be limited to, email communications between MCPS officials responsible for formulating and implementing the lesson, including but not limited to those communications of Dr. Cheree Price, in addition to all other policy documents regarding its development.
In a September 29, 2020, email from MCPS intern Benjamin Mourad in the “Student Well Being and Achievement” office of the Office of Student Support & Engagement, to Elizabeth Rathbone, Coordinator of Student Health and Wellness, Mourad provides a list of trainings offered in the summer of 2020 to MCPS staff. This training includes:
- REQ: Restorative Justice Training on Restorative Circles, Mindfulness & Other Restorative Practices
- School-based Critical Staff Member Training
- Counselors as Equity Literate Leaders
- Implementing Culturally Responsive PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports)
In an August 26, 2020, email titled “COVID-19 Update” to MCPS principals, MCPS Associate Superintendent for the Office of Shared Accountability Janet S. Wilson, advises the principals that “Non-custodial parents” who request Zoom login information [for access to school and potential Zoom events, like Back-to School Night] should not be granted connection information:
Additionally, parents should not login to Zoom classrooms and observe class when the child is not with them. If teachers note a parent logging in separately from their student, they should notify their principal who can seek support from OGC (Office of General Counsel) or Compliance as needed.
To support students at the start of the year, all schools will be required to implement a student psychoeducational lesson during one of the school’s mandatory Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) block before September 18, 2020. This lesson will provide students crisis facts about the dual pandemic (COVID-19 and systemic racism) that is occurring around the country and here in Montgomery County.
Wilson then presents the principals with a “website for staff, students and families that highlights ongoing professional learning opportunities for the virtual opening of schools. For staff training opportunities are focused around these key areas:
- Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment
- Social-Emotional Well-Being and Coaching for Engagement/Success
- Accessibility Tools for Instruction and Home
- Health and Safety
- Onboarding, Induction, Mentoring, Communication and Collaboration
She further notes: “The professional learning opportunities are grounded in equity and social-emotional learning to ensure that equitable environments are established in the virtual and traditional learning spaces. Professional learning opportunities will be updated throughout the year, so please check back frequently.”
In an instructional video for teachers on “Teacher Tips for SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) on Covid19/Social Justice,” in which the presenter first instructs teachers how to set up Zoom classes for students and how to adjust a feature in the Zoom chat setting to “alleviate the possibility of students saving and sharing the chat for later.” At the 6:30 mark, the presenter, in a slide titled “Covid-19 and social justice surrounding racism,” directs teachers to use a “scripted response”:
We are currently living through a dual pandemic with COVID-19 and the Systemic and Structural racism occurring worldwide. A pandemic is defined by an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population. As you can see from this slide [featuring a Black Lives Matter protest poster], both are affecting lives of people in our community and around the world. Part of what we will discuss today will surround facts about COVID-19 and the Social Justice Movement in our country.
In an October 8, 2020, email to MCPS principals and others about “psychoeducational lessons and curriculum updates,” Wilson reveals that there is a “Social Justice Book club for Grades 4-8.”
In a September 11, 2020, email titled, “Psychoeducational Lesson Drop In support,” MCPS Director of Psychological Services, Dr. Christina Conolly tells MCPS faculty:
We have had a lot of staff members who have questions about the implementation of the social justice slides on the lesson. Please be available to coach and/or co-teach with a staff member that may not be at a place on their anti-racism journey to effectively teach that section of the lesson.
A PowerPoint presentation titled “Family Guidance to the Psychoeducational Lesson,” includes the following slides for parents:
- “Secondary Slide: Dual Pandemic” includes a depiction of Black Lives Matter protesters along with police officers in Germantown, Maryland kneeling at a George Floyd protest, as well as the headlines, “What It’s Like to be Asian During the Coronavirus Pandemic” and “Why the Coronavirus Looks Different to Black America.”
- “Elementary Slide: Some Facts about Racism and Social Justice” contains a link to a video titled “Antiracist Baby,” based on a book written by Ibram X. Kendi.
- “Teacher’s Notes,” advises teachers that the “Antiracist Baby” book introduces the youngest readers to “the concept and power of antiracism,” and says it’s the “perfect gift” for “ages baby to age 3.”
- A slide titled “Secondary: A Brief Anti-Racism Glossary,” notes “Systems of Oppression identifies inequity by calling attention to the historical and organized patterns of mistreatment. In the United States systems of oppression (like systemic racism) are woven into the very foundation of American culture, society, and laws. (Social Identities and Systems of Oppression, 2019)]
- “Secondary: Common Initial Crisis Reactions,” lists symptoms that secondary school children may experience because of crisis include emotional, cognitive, physical and interpersonal/behavioral symptoms. The category of physical reactions includes “decreased libido” and “hyperarousal.”
- “Can Students opt-out [of the psychoeducational lesson]?” includes the bullet point, “Students cannot opt-out of the lessons,” but parents may request “an alternative method” for their children “due to mental health concerns.”
In a PowerPoint presentation titled the “3rd through 5th Grade Psychoeducational Lesson” a slide labeled “COVID-19 and Social Justice” includes the claim that, “People in African American and Latinx communities have been more likely to get sick from COVID-19 because of how racism and unfairness impacts their lives.” [Emphasis in original]
In a presentation titled “High School Psychoeducational Lesson,” a link is provided to the “Educator and Caregiver Learning Guide from Disrupt Texts” for the book titled “Antiracist Baby.” In the book the authors note, “To White caregivers … Racism is a problem that was invented by White people, and it is the work of White people to dismantle it.” The authors add that it is the responsibility of White caregivers to “study Whiteness,” and advise that, “Indigenous, Black and People of Color are not ‘minorities’ but ‘People of the Global Majority’ (PGM).”
In a September 15, 2020, email exchange with the subject line “Message about SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) and Psychoeducational lesson,” Wilson and other officials discuss parents wanting their children to opt-out of Black Lives Matter lessons.
Wilson writes: “I want to put on your radar that this [opting out] may be related to the anti-racist curriculum initiatives.”
MCPS Area Associate Superintendent Cheryl Dyson, replies: “Agree, Janet and Diane. I’ve heard directly from principals and directors. Some principals have parents who want their child to opt-out from the Black Lives Matter lesson.”
Area Assoc. Superintendent Diane Morris then responds: “Yes, I think so.”
The next reply, from MCPS Chief of Engagement, Innovation, and Operations Derek Turner, is entirely redacted, as is a “high importance” reply by MCPS Admin. Services Manager Felicia Yorro.
The new records include a draft activity assignment titled “Personal Identity Character Sketch” in which students were told to “focus on the intersectionality of your culture and another way that you identify yourself (your race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, class or another identity factor not listed here).” The assignment was adapted from the book “Courageous Conversations.”
Activism at this stage is based on cultural events and “celebrating diversity,” usually through cross-cultural programs and activities. Events tend to focus on surface-level cultural awareness, and often actually contribute to the stereotypes they are meant to challenge. People at the Food, Folks, and Fun stage might host an International Fair, a Multicultural Night, or a Diversity Fashion Show. Although these events have the potential to bring people together across difference, they do not have the potential to address injustices such as racism, sexism, classism, or homophobia.
The handout further notes that, “charitable giving” to such organizations as Amnesty International is a route people often choose “that will ease their own conscience, but don’t want to associate in any deeper way with a particular cause.” The handout also discusses volunteerism and is critical of “savior syndrome,” which it defines as when, “wealthy kids are sent into poor neighborhoods to do service-learning, but never discuss how their relative wealth is connected with the relative poverty of the people inhabiting those neighborhoods.” [Emphasis in original]
A draft presentation created by Montgomery County Public Schools Secondary Literacy Instruction is titled “Digital Literacy 3, Quarter 2: When Justice Isn’t Served” and features a “No Justice No Peace” logo, and features the following slides:
- “Scenarios of Injustice” describes a group activity where the students, “Work together with your group to determine how you would address your scenario of injustice,” and “Everyone must prepare to present your ideas to the class.”
- This activity includes a section where Students are provided with a “Scenario of Injustice” to discuss and write down ideas about. In this scenario, students are told that they witnessed two men – one black and one white – fighting in a parking lot. Police arrive and separate the men -forcing the black man to the ground, handcuffing and putting him in the police car. The police question the white man who, “shakes hands with the policemen and walks away.”
The “Digital Literacy 3, Quarter 1” presentation features several “Graphic Organizers:”
- Under the heading “Common Task, Gender Roles Reflection Graphic Organizer,” is a draft slide titled, “Reflecting on Gender Roles in My Life,” in which students are asked to “Describe when and how you first recognized your gender as part of your identity. It could have been in a positive, negative or neutral way.” It further asks the children to “Briefly describe how you felt about being a member of your gender group(s) in different aspects and stages of your life.”
- Under the heading “Race Reflection Graphic Organizer” is draft slide titled, “Reflecting on Race In My Life” that asks students a to, “Describe when and how you first recognized race. It could have been in a positive, negative or neutral way.” Students are further asked about the race of their family members: “Are your parents the same race? Are your brothers and sisters? What about your extended family-uncles, aunts, etc?”
- The “Religion Reflection Graphic Organizer” features a draft slide titled, “Reflecting on Religion in My Life,” and asks students to “Describe when and how you first recognized your religion. It could have been in a positive, negative or neutral way.” It further asks “Did you feel threatened, minoritized or privileged in this moment? Why?” and “Where do you go to worship?” and “Did your belief become stronger as you became older?”
- The “Sexual Orientation Reflection Graphic Organizer” slide titled “Reflecting on Sexual Orientation in My Life” asks the children to “Describe when and how you first recognized your sexual orientation.”
A presentation titled “Social Justice Movement: Making a Difference” includes:
- A set of slides that prompt students to “Create a timeline for your chosen social justice movement …” In this activity, the students are taught that a “catalyst” is “something that quickly causes change or action: such as “art, music, speeches, events, laws, movies, court cases, pop culture, propaganda, and literature.”
A presentation titled: “Researching Important Leaders and Organizations” includes:
- A slide titled “Social Justice Leaders” that includes a picture of a Black Lives Matter protester with upraised fist and long-time Communist Party USA member Angela Davis.
“This material details how extremist race politics and CRT are being used to target children for political ends,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “Politics should immediately be removed from the curriculum of Montgomery County Schools. These CRT-laden teachings have no place in any American classroom.”
In May, Judicial Watch obtained other records related to today’s release from Montgomery County Public Schools, which include documents related to their “Anti-racist system audit” and critical race theory classes. Students of “Maryland’s Largest School District” who attended Thomas Pyle Middle School’s social justice class were taught that the phrase “Make America Great Again” was an example of “covert white supremacy.” The phrase is ranked on a pyramid just below “lynching,” “hate crimes,” “the N-word” and “racial slurs.” They were also taught that “white privilege” means being favored by school authorities and having a positive relationship with the police.
In June, Judicial Watch uncovered records from Wellesley Public Schools in Massachusetts which confirm the use of “affinity spaces” that segregate students and staff based on race as a priority and objective of the school district’s “diversity, equity and inclusion” plan. The school district also admitted that between September 1, 2020 and May 17, 2021, it created “five distinct” segregated spaces.
In October, Judicial Watch uncovered a training document from a whistleblower in the Westerly School District of Rhode Island, which details how Westerly Public Schools are using teachers to push critical race theory in classrooms. The training course was assembled by the left-leaning Highlander Institute and cites quotes from Bettina Love, from whom the Biden administration distanced itself publicly after her statements equating “whiteness” to oppression.