Poetry course pact causes concern for Carson City school board

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The Carson City School District Board of Trustees last week approved a memorandum of understanding with the National Education Equity Lab to add a dual credit elective course on poetry for students.
Use of the word “equity” in the host institution’s name, however, stirred up uneasiness about the course itself before the vote took place.
The course, entitled “Poetry in America: The City from Whitman to Hip Hop” offered at Pioneer High School, allows students to receive three credits at Arizona State University and an ASU transcript upon successful completion. NRS 389.160 allows high school students who have finished courses provided by a Nevada institution of higher learning to receive dual credits that count toward their high school diploma as well as college credits for certain courses. Senate Bill 160 as of Nevada’s 81st legislative session expanded these course outside Nevada, requiring approval through MOUs.
Previously approved Nevada System of Higher Education courses that have fallen under these agreements are represented in any number of academic subjects such as accounting, American Sign Language, English, geology, mathematics, music, welding and others.
The curriculum for such classes is considered “intriguing” to students and “provides greater access” to college-level courses, according to associate superintendent of educational services Tasha Fuson, who made the presentation at the board’s Aug. 10 meeting.
“Poetry in America: The City from Whitman to Hip Hop,” to be taught by Gillian Osborne, will examine American poets beginning with Walt Whitman, considered one of the most influential writers of the 19th century, into the contemporary period. The class will explore the vision of these writers spanning diverse environments of city life across the country from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., and will include Carl Sandburg, Emma Lazarus, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Langston Hughes, Marianne Moore, Frank O’Hara, Gwendolyn Brooks, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Hayden and Robert Pinsky. Artists’ themes and voices will cover those of the contemporary hip-hop and spoken word forms.
The course creator is Dr. Elisa New, a Powell M. Cabot professor of American literature at Harvard University.
Pioneer Academy Principal Jason Zona told the Appeal his school was still in the midst of determining how to provide extra support for students considering college as an option.
“We are pleased to offer another dual high school and college credit course for Pioneer Academy students in cooperation with Arizona State University,” Zona said. “This poetry course was presented to us by the Nevada Department of Education and the Carson City School District curriculum and instruction office. This elective English course will provide another ‘high interest and high rigor’ option at Pioneer.”
During the board’s discussion, there were concerns about the MOU itself as well as the selection of the course and its selection from the National Education Equity Lab, with board members asking for further opportunities to review the curriculum on the course further approving the MOU.
“I’m trying to make sure they’re not teaching critical race theory,” board President Joe Cacioppo said.
Trustee Laurel Crossman later responded by saying she understood the concern for any sensitivity to the use of the word “equity” in the organization’s name as the National Education Equity Lab but dismissed any likelihood that it meant critical race theory was, in fact, necessarily being taught.
“With CRT that people have, the awareness, there are issues, I mean, you talk about (Dr.) Martin Luther King as early as kindergarten, and that’s something racially discussed but that doesn’t mean there’s critical race theory going on,” Crossman said.
Trustee Don Carine offered an alternative point of view, stating the course is an elective.
“We’re not forcing anybody to take this class,” he said. “It’s nice to have choices.”
Trustee Richard Varner expressed concerns about sending class fees out of state.
Fuson said she was unable to state the purpose of offering this particular course, but said the district holds the advantage of offering students the level of rigor with this type of curriculum by making such dual credit courses available to students who want to participate in programs like JumpStart and work at an accelerated pace.
“It makes it more accessible,” Fuson said. “It’s to give students a taste of what it’s like to go to schools like Harvard or Yale.”
The item raised public comment, with some raising questions about whether the board should re-examine the arrangement in detail.
“I think you need to go back and do your homework … you need to make sure this is done right,” Carson City resident Richard Nagel said of the curriculum provided by the National Education Equity Lab. “I looked at the website, and it gave more questions than answers.”
Resident Bepsy Strasburg also expressed she was worried about the choice for this specific poetry course, stating she had taken a similar video course and said it was more appropriate for college students than high school students.
“I urge you to get a taste of the course,” Strasburg said. “I looked up the National Education Equity Lab. ... When was the school board told about this group? What vetting has been done? … I urge the school board to reject the memorandum and the addition of any poetry courses. Focus on the basics so we can raise the national ranking from the 49th level. ... Students do not need to be indoctrinated in K-12 schools.”
The board approved the memorandum in a 4-2 vote, with Trustee Lupe Ramirez absent from the meeting and with Cacioppo and Varner opposing the MOU.
The course now goes to the State Board of Education for final approval on its Sept. 30 agenda.


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