By Jon King /

It was a contentious Call to the Public Monday night for the Hartland Consolidated Schools Board of Education as more than a dozen people lobbed criticisms and insults at board members and district officials.

The meeting had begun innocuously enough, with routine items being dealt with, including a budget hearing and a tribute offered to former Hartland Wrestling Coach Todd Cheney following his retirement after 29 seasons and 810 wins. But when it came time for members of the public to speak their minds for three minutes, 16 people lined up and each, in turn, aired their grievances toward the district in general and Superintendent Chuck Hughes and Board President Thom Dumond in particular.

Most of the anger was directed at the perception the district was trying to infuse the curriculum with Critical Race Theory, an academic viewpoint that racism has been at the core of American history, shaping its laws and institutions. The discipline is almost exclusively taught at the university level but has become a rallying cry at school boards across the country. A recent NBC News investigation found that at least 165 local and national groups "reinforced by conservative think tanks, law firms and activist parents" aimed to disrupt lessons on race and gender and that "these groups have found allies in families frustrated over Covid-19 restrictions in schools and have weaponized the right’s opposition to critical race theory, turning it into a political rallying point."

In Hartland, the revelation earlier this year that a Black high school student had been persistently racially harassed led to the creation of a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee which many have equated with Critical Race Theory, although they are two different concepts. Four students were recently charged in relation to that case.

But the criticisms Monday night were not confined to issues of race, but also gender and sexuality as many of the speakers, including Lori Leach, complained about efforts at LGBTQ+ inclusion. "You guys need to start listening to us. History is there so we don't repeat the bad part of it. You don't put all this Black Lives Matter and all this Pride stuff. You ruined the rainbow. The rainbow was a happy thing in the 80s. You ruined it!"

Shelly Shpakoff compared Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ+ to religions and said they had no place in a public school. "Everyone knows what the LGBTQ+ stickers look like and everyone knows what it means. It's offensive to practicing Christians that hold true to the Biblical teachings. Christian families have a right to feel safe and represented in this district. Stop making public schools offensive for Christians."

One elderly gentleman, identified as Ken Swalls, said he had moved out to Hartland in the early 1970s to raise his family in a "safe and natural environment" but joined with the other speakers in the assumption that major curriculum changes were being made. "If any of you have read anything about Critical Race Theory, you know it's almost like Ebonics. I can't understand. maybe you think it's funny, I don't know. But I never thought that the people that I live with, especially in Hartland, would ever consider something like this."

Several also stated that the district was a conservative one and threatened to vote out board members if they didn’t respond to their complaints.

When asked to comment on the criticisms, Superintendent Hughes sent the following statement to WHMI: "The key for people in our community to know is that the district will continue to listen and work toward ensuring that we address any and all barriers within policy, practice, and procedures that may limit the opportunity for full participation in all that we offer. This work will require conversations regarding many social issues of today and the past in order to get to a place that we believe is good for our students. To assume that we have adopted a "curriculum" that is contrary to Reason, Respect, and Responsibility and outside of the standards and benchmarks established for the State of Michigan is disheartening to hear. I believe that Hartland is a wonderful place to raise children and that our school district adds value to the educational experience of all children yet at times there will be bumps in the road that we have to adjust for."

Board President Dumond also sent a statement that said, "Our primary goal at Hartland Consolidated Schools is to provide the best possible environment for all of our students to reach their fullest potential while attending our school system. We want every student to be able to walk into our buildings every morning, and feel safe, welcome and ready to learn. We have done this through a dedicated and focused staff, administration and Board with the wellbeing of every student in mind."