PHM parents, administrator meet to address concerns over curriculum

NOW: PHM parents, administrator meet to address concerns over curriculum

MISHAWAKA, Ind. -- One of the biggest school districts in Michiana is clearing up confusion.

Penn Harris Madison schools says it doesn’t teach students the controversial “critical race theory” lessons, which are making headlines across the country right now.

However, after some protests put on by parents, school administrators held the first of a few meetings Monday to explain what is and what is not taught in their classrooms.

While PHM says it doesn’t teach CRT, but it does teach something called social emotional learning SEL.

On Monday, at the first of a series of meetings, parents got to hear directly from school officials about what their kids are being taught and also had the chance to ask questions. 

For the last two years, PHM has been teaching SEL.

“SEL is for every student because it is a positive proactive approach,” Jennifer Sears, the Director of SEL and Mental Health at PHM, says. “We teach and implement SEL skills to intentionally build skills for success both now and in the future.” 

Some examples of those skills include, empathy, anti-bullying, and identifying microaggressions.

But lessons differ for different age groups, and the curriculum drew concerns from parents that elements of CRT were being taught. 

The question was answered verbatim.

“Is critical race theory taught at PHM? No.” Derrick White, PHM’s Diversity Officer, says. “CRT is not included in Indiana standards.”

Critical race theory examines how laws and history intersect with racism. It’s normally taught at a college level, but parents across the country are concerned its bled into the K-12 lesson plan.

Instead, administrators say diversity, equity, and inclusion are their focus at PHM, and CRT taught there. 

“It seemed pretty formal and straight forward,” Robert Jerzak, a PHM parent of a senior, says. “There was no big surprise.”

Former PHM student Chuck Elum, who doesn’t currently have any kids in the district, says based on what he heard today, now, he’d send his kids here. 

“It used to basically be a racist high school, but now it’s changed,” Elum says.

Others declined to go on camera, but say they still have concerns about will be taught to their children. 

“We are reevaluating to identify high school only SEL DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) lessons,” White adds. “We will take those under consideration so that we achieve PHM’s goals and values. 

The district says it plans to post the nine-week SEL curriculum online for parents to see the exact break down. 

But if parents choose to opt their kids out completely, that will also be an option. 

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