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Southington school leader defends teacher who used vocab sheet featuring inclusive terms

A capacity crowd attends the September 22, 2022, Southington Board of Education meeting as more than 30 town residents, including Kristen Mongillo (left), were provided two minutes each to address the board. Earlier this month, Board of Education Chair Colleen Clark announced that the district was investigating a class handout titled “Vocabulary for conversations about race, gender, equality and inclusivity” after several community members voiced opposition to the packet.
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
A capacity crowd attends a meeting of the Southington Board of Education on Sept. 22, 2022. More than 30 residents, including Kristen Mongillo (left), had two minutes each to address the board. Earlier this month, school board Chair Colleen Clark announced an investigation into a class handout titled “Vocabulary for conversations about race, gender, equality and inclusivity” after several community members voiced opposition to the handout.

Officials with Southington Public Schools say they support a high school English teacher who used a vocabulary list featuring language highlighting inclusivity – a list that’s generated concern from some parents.

The vocabulary list included terms like cisgender, transgender and white privilege.

Some parents who gathered at a rally Thursday night say those terms shouldn’t be taught in the classroom.

“We should be taught math, and English and social studies,” said Mary Barbagallo, a Southington resident. “But in a regular English room, teaching English, this teacher had no right to bring in her own material.”

Superintendent Steven Madancy said that while the materials the teacher used were not approved by the district, the teacher had no ill intent.

“All of our teachers and this teacher do their best to put their best foot forward for our students every day,” he said. “I’m committed to supporting this teacher moving forward and all our teachers.”

Saying, “This has been an unfortunate distraction for all of us,” Southington Superintendent of Schools Steven Madancy spoke to the media before the Southington Board of Education meeting on Thursday, Sept. 22. “We want parents to know that their children are in a safe and inclusive learning environment,” he said, “And we must not rush to judgment. We should support and respect our teachers and their dedication to our students.”
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
Southington Superintendent of Schools Steven Madancy speaks to reporters before the Board of Education meeting on Sept. 22. “We want parents to know that their children are in a safe and inclusive learning environment,” he said. “And we must not rush to judgment. We should support and respect our teachers and their dedication to our students.”

Madancy is recommending that educators teaching content about complex issues be given additional professional development.

In a letter, Madancy said issues surrounding the vocabulary list were causing stress, “especially our teachers, staff and students.”

“This has been an unfortunate distraction for all of us and we will not debate this in the media, or on social media,” he wrote. “We want parents to know that their children are in a safe and inclusive learning environment, and we must not rush to judgment. We should support and respect our teachers and their dedication to our students.”

The English teacher received support earlier this week from professors at Southern Connecticut State University. They sent a letter to Southington school leaders, saying that the teacher's worksheet "provides simple straightforward characterizations of concepts" and that concerns about the worksheet amounted to a "politically motivated attack on free speech."

Some community members have said that the vocabulary sheet is a part of teaching critical race theory. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund defines critical race theory as “an academic framework that examines the impact of systemic racism on American society.” It's used in professional and academic research.

Madancy said the district has maintained all along that it does not teach critical race theory.

“It’s not a part of our curriculum or anywhere within it,” Madancy said. “It’s a higher academic framework that’s used by institutions like universities that’s well beyond K-12 public education. There’s absolutely no relevance to CRT whatsoever with the materials in these documents.”

Regina Coviello (left), a third-generation Southington resident and graduate of Southington High School, exchanges points of view with demonstrators gathered before the the start of the September 22, 2022, Southington Board of Education meeting. At a Sept. 8 meeting, Board of Education Chair Colleen Clark announced that the district was investigating a class handout titled “Vocabulary for conversations about race, gender, equality and inclusivity” after several community members voiced opposition to the packet.
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
Regina Coviello (left), a third-generation Southington resident and graduate of Southington High School, exchanges points of view with demonstrators gathered before the start of the Sept. 22 Southington Board of Education meeting. At a Sept. 8 meeting, school board Chair Colleen Clark announced that the district was investigating a class handout titled “Vocabulary for conversations about race, gender, equality and inclusivity” after several community members voiced opposition to it.

Catherine Shen is a Connecticut Public’s education reporter. The Los Angeles native comes to CT Public after a decade of print and digital reporting across the country.
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