World Cultures class defended at A-R School Committee meeting

  • School counsel Fred Dupere speaks during the Athol-Royalston Regional School Committee meeting Wednesday night at the Middle School. GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 3/21/2019 6:00:01 PM
Modified: 3/22/2019 8:22:44 AM

ATHOL — At a meeting of the Athol-Royalston Regional School Committee the past Feb. 13, Athol parent Joshua LaMarche voiced criticism of the district’s World Cultures class. LaMarche said the class amounted to “political indoctrination” and that its content is “inappropriate, politically charged, and bordering on hate speech and racism.” His 11-year-old daughter is in the 6th grade and attends the class led by teacher Rosa Torres.

Another opinion was heard Wednesday evening, when parent Stacey Bellabarba defended both the class and the teacher.

The class, said Bellabarba, “has provided a really positive experience to my daughter and many other students. (She) has had the opportunity to listen to not only opinions and ideas that she agrees with, but ideas that she doesn’t agree with. At the middle-school age, sometimes that can be difficult. Having the opportunity to be in an educational class where they have these debates and they’re learning to talk to each other with kindness and to consider each other’s point of view, and to be able to think critically about that is really important.”

“Since she’s been in this class,” Bellabarba continued, “I’ve seen a change in her confidence level and in her ability to express her opinions, to share her ideas. That wasn’t there before this class. So, when she initially took this class, I didn’t realize the gravity and the effect it was going to have on her. I just want to say, I really appreciate Ms. Torres. I appreciate her class; I’m so glad my daughter has this opportunity.”

Bellabarba then presented the committee with letters from other parents and students in support of Ms. Torres and the World Cultures class.

The letter from one 8th-grader discussed a section of the class that dealt with Sylvie Mendez, an American civil rights activist of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent. The letter stated, in part: “The lesson I learned from Sylvia’s life was to stay strong even though you’re doing something hard. I have autism and I’m going to work hard to get good grades and study as much as I can to prove that I belong with everyone else. Just because I have a label and am different, I can still do the things average people can do. I deserve to be in class with other kids even though I’m different, just like Sylvia.”

Another 8th-grader wrote: “In my opinion, nothing in the class we discussed was inappropriate and there wasn’t any subject we’d discussed that I had not heard of before. My mom asked me what I thought about Black Lives Matter videos. My reply was that, ‘Don’t black lives matter?’ and I wondered why there would be anything wrong with that.”

“I have discussed the content of the class extensively with both of my children and they both loved the class and the teacher,” wrote parent Aimee Hanson. “They informed me of the topics that were discussed, as well as the open opinion and discussion policy of the class. I personally feel that this is very valuable in order to educate my children and their peers about real issues both current and historical. I think it’s important for them to understand these things so they can think about issues critically.”

An update on the World Cultures class was included on Wednesday night’s agenda, but Superintendent Darcy Fernandes was unable to attend. Committee Chair Deborah Kuzmeskas said the topic would be discussed at the panel’s next meeting in April.

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