Series: Exploring community involvement in school curriculum development

DV curriculum watchdog group formed

By CHARLES PETERSHEIM
Posted 2/10/22

MILFORD, PA — Armed with issue and strategy roadmaps circulating nationwide through groups like the Tea Party Patriots Action and other right-wing think tanks, a group of parents have formed a …

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Series: Exploring community involvement in school curriculum development

DV curriculum watchdog group formed

Posted

MILFORD, PA — Armed with issue and strategy roadmaps circulating nationwide through groups like the Tea Party Patriots Action and other right-wing think tanks, a group of parents have formed a curriculum watchdog group whose mission centers on ensuring that their voice is represented in Delaware Valley School District classroom programming. Similar efforts are underway on the legislative front across the country.

According to its website, the group, Pennsylvania Advocacy for Children’s Education (PACE), intends to “systematically empower parents and students to become informed and involved.” Milford resident Matthew Contreras is listed as the organization's president.

An hour before the January 20 meeting of the DVSD board, Anastasia Theodoropoulos wrote in a Facebook message “parents were welcomed to join our first DVSD Curriculum Meeting with admin/school board/teachers.” 

At that meeting, superintendent Dr. John Bell detailed the manner in which books and curricula are developed for each school year, including where public notice of school books can be found and how to submit comments via a “concern form” about those books. Approximately 40 parents attended, along with school administration and principals who were there to answer curriculum questions.  It is unclear how many of the parents were affiliated with PACE, which was the only organized group identified.

With several states across the political spectrum recently eliminating the masking mandates while cases remain near record highs, PACE’s vocal anti-masking stance played a part in the school board’s decision to eliminate the masking requirement.

Several members of PACE also overlap with other area advocacy groups, which held a large rally at the Pike County Courthouse in early November 2021, and asserted enough pressure at a council meeting to have Milford Borough retreat on an anti-assembly law.

A deeper dive into the polished, multicultural PACE website reveals a string of conservative issues, including opposition to critical race theory and anti-Americanism in schools. It also hosts legislative playbooks written by the Tea Party and addresses gender and equality components of modern curriculums.

PACE aims to erect a barricade against learning theories that, according to the Pioneer Institute white paper pinned on PACE’s website, proposes to “liberate American students from the shackles of traditional wisdom,” and the movement started by educator John Dewey [see box] “who see elementary and secondary schools as the vehicle to form the New America” and from social reform. PACE fundamentally opposes the government, in the form of schooling, from leading that effort, calling it “indoctrination” and asserting that it is not the purpose of the federal and state education system.  

While a portion of the priorities of PACE are synchronized with most members of the community, the organization charts territory with far less clear support or agreement. On its website, the group denies the existence of COVID-19, claims there is no evidence of asymptomatic virus spread and that COVID-19 mitigation efforts of contact tracing and similar tools violate their constitutional rights of due process and equal protection. Organizations PACE references are also resistant to an LBGTQ presence or exploration in books or classrooms.  

Opposition to the teachings of critical race theory (CRT) remains central to PACE’s dogma, though what CRT varies with the person. Time magazine produced a definition that assembled the collective ideas on the topic as the “simple idea that people shouldn’t be made to feel uncomfortable and shame about their advantages or others’ disadvantages.” PACE adherents say this is especially true of children.

Regarding the school’s response to pressure stemming from this group’s advocacy, Bell wrote in an email that “our plan is to collect these ‘concern forms’ and near the end of the year have the principals and teachers review them for merit. If so, we could make changes for the following year.” He added that the school has not received any formal “concern forms” as of the date of this email.

While PACE remains vigilant about sexually explicit books, its efforts currently seem to be as gatekeepers, since there are few books currently on the DVSD curriculum they have specifically highlighted as inappropriate. Instead, the group or members of the group, use graphic photos and the text of books that can be found in other districts’ libraries. 

“Currently many fine parents are going over every single new book being added to the curriculum and to our libraries,” Theodoropoulos said in the same Facebook post.  According to The Washington Post, the American Library Association has counted 330 challenges to books in the last three months versus 377 for all of 2019, calling the number "unprecedented."

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