Parents at Elite NYC School Push Back Against Faculty's Antiracist Demands

(Photo by Thos Robinson/Getty Images for Shinnyo-en)
January 28, 2021

Parents whose children attend an elite, private New York City prep school are pushing back against the faculty's litany of antiracist demands, which would force students to learn critical race theory.

In an open letter to the Dalton School community, a group of parents expressed "loving concern" over the school's "abandonment" of liberal-arts education in favor of an "anti-racist curriculum." They asked Dalton to suspend newly developed lessons rooted in critical race theory, return to former curriculum standards, and hire an independent ombudsman to conduct a survey among students, parents, and alumni about the school's antiracist measures.

"Love of learning and teaching is now being abandoned in favor of an 'anti-racist curriculum,'" the parents wrote. "Every class this year has had an obsessive focus on race and identity, 'racist cop' reenactments in science, 'de-centering whiteness' in art class, learning about white supremacy and sexuality in health class. Wildly age-inappropriate, many of these classes feel more akin to a Zoom corporate sensitivity training than to Dalton's intellectually engaging curriculum."

Months of racial unrest sparked last year by Black Lives Matter led dozens of schools, particularly expensive, private institutions, to weave lessons in critical race theory—the notion that laws and society in the United States are inherently racist—into school curricula.

The protests inspired Dalton teachers and faculty to send school administrators a litany of controversial stipulations for combating "anti-Blackness" in December. The group demanded that Dalton pay off student loans for black staff members and implement courses that focus on "Black liberation and challenges to white supremacy." The faculty also demanded that the school abolish advanced courses if black students are not performing on par with white students by 2023.

As part of its new "Commitment to Anti-Racism" plan, the $54,000-per-year school implemented "racial literacy curricula" for elementary and middle-school students and piloted new identity-based student-orientation programs.

The parents noted in their letter that many families no longer feel welcome at the school because of the new curriculum changes and that some have considered removing their children from the school. While the parents commended Dalton for its commitment to a progressive educational philosophy, they said the school's curriculum changes "achieve precisely the opposite results as intended."

Public and private schools across the country moved to implement critical race theory in school curricula and teacher trainings last summer. The administration at one elite Los Angeles high school wrote a lengthy "anti-racism" letter confessing to perpetuating "racism and injustice." Many other top private schools in the United States, including Dalton, have hired outside consultants to analyze diversity and racism within schools and create equity-training programs.

Neither the Dalton School nor the parents who wrote the letter responded to requests for comment in time for publication.