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  • Rev. Dr. Dennis S. Ritter

Academic Freedom is on the Ballot: May 16

The following letter was sent to members of our school board back in the spring of 2021 amid the controversy of some morning announcements at GES and articles in a district publication that were designed to urge us all to think and talk about how we treat one another, especially when “the other” is different from me/us.


This letter became a reason that, although I disagreed with the methods used by that early district equity group, I worked so hard with other board members, parents and residents from the community to craft and pass Policy 809, the district’s current equity policy. As you will learn when you read the student’s letter Kutztown has some work to do to make its schools a welcoming and a safe place for all of its students. This is the purpose of Policy 809, as well as to ensure that we are supporting all of our students in ways that will enable them to succeed now and in the future.


There are candidates who are running for positions on our school board who have pledged to repeal Policy 809 and to ban books and lesson plans that they don’t like for a variety of made up reasons. Don’t be fooled! The academic freedom thousands of students who have graduated from KASD, my daughters included, is on the ballot this spring and fall in our community. Your vote matters! Become informed and be sure to vote for candidates that believe in the value of a free and unfettered public education.


Please read the letter, which does not include the student’s name because I did not think at the time to request permission to share it. Thus, I am sharing its full content without the student’s name attached.


11 May 2021


Dear Kutztown Area School Board,


Our history classes are dominated by the stories of white cisgender men. The books we read in high school language arts classes are, without exception, written by older white cis men. If I didn’t read outside of school, I would never have the opportunity to see my identities reflected in literature. And some students have even less representation in the curriculum.


The discrimination pervades our school. Students use slurs casually, mock neurodivergent students, and joke about the Holocaust. Intolerance shows itself in subtler ways, too, like teachers refusing to use a student’s correct pronouns, or the blue-line police flags and Confederate flags on trucks in the parking lot. Kutztown is a difficult place to be anything other than white, cis, straight, and neurotypical.


I’ve heard people say that the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know, usually in reference to academic disciplines. I think that applies to social consciousness as well. Over the past year, I’ve learned a lot about my own privilege and advantages as a white person. I’m still trying to figure out how to be better. I hope that the DEI group is allowed to continue its work, and that it can give more people the opportunity to learn about themselves and others. I have been impressed by the newsletters posted on their website, which are thoughtful and thoroughly researched.


The DEI group is a start, although to be honest, it feels like the bare minimum. We have to

start talking about these issues, to acknowledge the many ways in which racism, homophobia, transphobia, and general intolerance exist right here in our district, and in ourselves. In doing so, we will become better people, and we will build schools that make students feel safer and provide a better, more inclusive education.


Sincerely,

XXXXXXXXXXX

Senior at Kutztown Area High School




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