Pennsylvania’s culturally relevant and sustaining education guidelines causing controversy


PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- A controversial regulation for school districts enacted in the last days of the Wolf administration is generating lawsuits today. 

Last November under Gov. Tom Wolf, the state's education department issued a new regulation to train public school teachers on something called culturally relevant and sustaining education or CRSE, but critics like state Rep. Aaron Bernstine said, "This is an example of bureaucrats overstepping their bounds. They're putting regulations on educators in which they are basically forcing the teaching of critical race theory."

Bernstine, who says some educators have swapped out names for CRT, supports passage of Senate Bill 853 to repeal the regulation. In the meantime, some school districts including Mars Area and Laurel have sued to halt CRSE.   

The guidelines for CRSE address nine teacher competencies, like encouraging educators to reflect on their cultural lenses, address bias in their school systems, establish high expectations for students and educate themselves about microaggressions and their impact. 

"Culturally relevant and sustaining education is really all about making sure that our teachers are equipped to be welcoming and inclusive of all the different types of students that they're going to interact with on a day-to-day basis," said former state Education Secretary Eric Hagarty. 

Hagarty says CRSE has nothing to do with curriculum -- it's all about training teachers.  

"In my view, CRSE is indoctrination over education. In my view, CRSE does not encourage students how to think but tells students what to think," said Laurel Superintendent Leonard Rich. 

Rich says CRSE assumes all educators and school districts are inherently biased, racist or culturally unaware and seeks to impose one view of history and social issues instead of critical thinking open to all views.

"What we are doing at the secondary level and also at the post-secondary level is we are indoctrinating thought that there is only one side to the issue when it comes to any of the crises, the social crises that the public is facing," Rich said.

Hagarty says there was no controversy drafting these regulations and regrets the controversy over the wording of some of the CRSE guidelines.  

"Education is becoming a politically polarized field these days," Hagarty said.

Hagarty agrees with the Shapiro administration's view that these guidelines are not binding, with a spokesperson saying, "The guidelines issued by the PDE are not required to be followed by school districts. They are simply guidelines. School districts are free to implement CRSE as they see best." 

The guidelines issued by the state Department of Education are not required to be followed by school districts. They are simply guidelines. School districts are free to implement CRSE as they see best.

Shaler Area School Superintendent Dr. Sean Aiken says the key is to be welcoming to all and make nobody feel guilty or less valuable than another.

"It's our goal. It's not to divide. It's not to make one person feel a level of guilt or shame or anything like that. It's really about creating an environment where all students feel accepted," Aiken said.   

Absent legislative or court action, the CRSE regulations are scheduled to take effect in the 2024-25 school year, giving school districts plenty of time this year to figure it all out.

Jon Delano is a familiar face on KDKA, having been the station's political analyst since 1994. In September 2001, Jon joined KDKA full time as the Money & Politics Editor and this region's only political analyst who covers national and local issues that affect hometown residents.

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