(WJAR) — The Westerly School Committee voted unanimously Wednesday not to adopt a resolution that would prohibit teaching divisive concepts after nearly five hours of public comment.
Students, teachers, and residents spoke for and against the resolution.
Many shared their own experiences in the district, which varied tremendously.
Despite some setbacks with speakers talking out of turn or longer than the allotted 10 minutes, speakers shared their thoughts without interruption.
Rising senior, Sienna Fusaro’s remarks got a round of applause early on in the evening.
“My teachers do not teach me what to think, but rather to be a critical thinker,” said Fusaro.
Robert Chiaradio, who introduced the resolution, said kids in the Westerly Public School district are being exposed to “the tenants and pillars of critical race theory.”
Chiaradio said despite the vote, he remains committed to the fight.
“Critical race theory removes hard work determination, grit and accountability as reasons for a person’s success or failure and replaces them with one immutable characteristic; race,” explained Chiaradio in his comments.
But students, like Fusaro, claim the theories are not being taught in the classroom.
“To claim that Westerly High School as a whole is indoctrinating me to hate America, or I myself, as a white person, is absolutely unfounded,” said Fusaro.
President of the Westerly Teacher’s Association, Colleen Saila, shared similar thoughts.
“We objectively present to students the good the bad and the ugly of our past so that we can build a better, brighter future,” said Saila. “Our students need to learn about the times when this country lived up to its promises and when it has not.”
Some speakers questioned what things would look like if the resolution were to be passed.
“Who becomes the arbitrator of what is or is not divisive,” said one woman.
A handful of people supported the resolution, publicly by show of applause, and in public comment.
“These are prohibitions, not inclusions as some of you have misquoted,” said Joanne Gray.
During the public comment, people of color who grew up in Westerly, some who recently graduated, shared their experiences in the school system.
Admitting, school experiences were not all bad, they shared experiences of racism.
“Acknowledgement of inequality does not define guilt,” said Kayla Kennedy, an alumnus.
But one man, who said he was an educator in New York before coming to Westerly, denied allegations of racism.
“Things that have been alluded to, I have never seen,” he told the crowd.
He was later heckled when he spoke about critical race theory and Marxism.
Ultimately Westerly showed a divide in their opinions, but the school committee remained a united front.
They said they will continue to address issues of inequality moving forward.