School board elections are generally low-key contests but this year, debates over teaching about racism in America have resulted in fierce battles in several suburban towns.
In Guilford, the issue has pitted Republicans against one another in the board of education primary. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Tuesday; at this point, only registered Republicans can vote.
The campaign has been dominated by a discussion of “critical race theory,” an academic framework for understanding the relationship between racism and power throughout American history.
Critics, including the five Republican activists who won the party’s backing at a nominating caucus in July, say white children are being made to feel guilty for past injustices. However, educators in Guilford said the theory is not taught in the town’s public schools.
The debate over critical race theory in Guilford mirrors similar divides in other Connecticut communities and around the nation. In several other Connecticut towns, including New Canaan and Glastonbury, activists running for the school board have pushed the issue and won a place on ballots in November.
Attacks on critical race theory have fired up Republicans, especially “people who are Trump loyalists and those who question the validity of the election,’' said Ronald C. Schurin, a professor of political science at the University of Connecticut.
“Often they don’t really understand what it is or they are deliberately trying to misinterpret what it is,” Schurin said. “There are people who argue that the focus is not just on a very legitimate examination on the role of race and racial discrimination in American history but rather a reinterpretation of all American history [through the lens of] racial justice.”
Five seats on the nine-member school board in Guilford are open this year and the five candidates who receive the most votes in November will be elected to the four-year terms.
At the Republican nominating caucus, which drew about 200 people out of roughly 3,200 registered Republicans, five anti-critical race theory activists received the party’s endorsement: Tim Chamberlain, Nick Cusano, Bill Maisano, Aly Passerelli and Danielle Scarpellino.
Three Republican incumbents — Joseph Golino, Theodore D. Sands and Amy Sullivan — were not backed for reelection. Following the caucus, the three, along with William Mulligan and James O’Keefe, petitioned their way onto the primary ballot. They are calling their slate “Republicans for Education.”
Ben Proto, the chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party, declined to weigh in on the two slates, saying the party’s bylaws require him to remain neutral until after the primary.
But he views the intraparty dispute as a healthy sign and said he backs efforts to closely examine what students are learning in history.
“It is important that we have a strong educational environment … one that creates well-rounded children and … well-rounded adults,’' Proto said. “The entire civics curriculum should be looked at. What is social studies and how should we be teaching it and what we’re teaching at what grade level? These are important issues.”