The Mars Area School District board voted to approve an addition to the district's mission statement to promote “Informed, Engaged and Patriotic Citizens” at a meeting on Tuesday night.
The addition prohibits “the teaching of concepts that assign fault, blame, or guilt to people solely because of race, sex and religion,” and opposes materials that “indoctrinate” students in “a single social, or political, ideology and/or theory, or promote one race, religion or sex above others.”
A change to the addition was proposed at the meeting by board member Anthony Depretis and approved by the board.
With the change, the policy now bans teaching of “social theories (for example, the 1619 Project, Critical Race Theory) and conspiracy theories (for example, Holocaust Denial Theory, 9/11 Theory)” unless approved by the school board. A previous edition of the policy had all four examples in the same category of “social theories of any kind.”
Critical Race Theory is a typically college- and graduate-level theory that explores societal and legal issues and structures to examine how they relate to race.
Depretis' amendment also added a Merriam-Webster definition of patriotism as “love for or devotion to one's country” to the addition.
Board member Dayle Ferguson, who originally presented the proposed addition at a July 20 meeting, said at the meeting Tuesday that “patriotism is not controversial.”
A number of community members made public comments at the meeting on the addition to the mission statement.
“In 21 years of teaching, there isn't one teacher I can name who doesn't say the Pledge each morning or neglects to teach patriotism in the curriculum,” said Mars resident Jennifer McAfee. “These patriotism statements are items already addressed in curriculums across the commonwealth.”
McAfee said that when she interviewed the late Holocaust survivor Eva Mozes Kor, she was told that the one thing that students and teachers should learn about the Holocaust was “to never let it happen again.”
She said that she was concerned that the way the policy is written may prevent stories of Holocaust survivors from being told, and implored the board members not to embarrass the school district or its community.
On the other hand, several parents spoke in support of the policy. Mars resident Tina Wilson said that she thinks it is important that the school reiterate the importance of being an American and supporting America.
She told the board that when she and her grandchildren hear the National Anthem being played at Mars sporting events from her backyard, they “put their hands over their hearts and sing it with you.
“It's very important that you added those theories and that they be voted on before they are presented to our youth,” she said.
More on masks
Parents also attended the meeting to speak both for and against the idea of mask mandates.
Tera Bartolomucci said that the current in-person plan for returning to school is important to preserve, and that “masking is an easy, safe and effective way to reduce school closures.”
“Please do the right thing for our children and the community,” Bartolomucci said.
Cathy Lazar said that forcing children to wear masks is “physiologically and psychologically abusive.”
She said that her four grandchildren have come to her crying about not wanting to go to school if they are required to wear masks.
“It breaks my heart for kids,” Lazar said.
As of now, Mars Area Superintendent Dr. Mark Gross said it is “very difficult” for the school board to implement anything “that we are not sure that we have the authority to implement without a mandate or emergency order” from the state or federal level.
“This issue with masking has been so complex, and the pressures on all sides have been great,” he said. “I don't know who's right or wrong. I know we are in this business to educate, and we are going to focus on educating and let the physicians do their thing.”
Board member Christine Valenta attended the meeting via Zoom and said that not mandating masks “makes things very difficult.
“I'm not sure who among us would be willing to have a doctor operate on us without gloves and a mask,” she said.
As of now, Mars Area students will return to school with a mask-optional policy on Aug. 25.