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BOE continues to hear comments on math program

By Toni Milbourne - For the Chronicle | Jul 2, 2021

Deb Hale addresses the Jefferson County Board of Education about her concerns over the Black Math Genius program, as Superintendent Bondy Gibson looks on. Toni Milbourne

CHARLES TOWN — Members of the public continued to bring comments to the Jefferson County Board of Education about a Black Math Genius program that had been slated to run during the summer school session. Controversy over the program, concerning its potential exclusionary title and the lack of transparency in offering the program, caused the board to postpone the start of the four-week program.

Alleged personal attacks on staff members called for JCBOE President Kathy Skinner to read rules of decorum at Monday evening’s meeting, stressing that no individual was to be attacked or even mentioned by name in public comment. Skinner said she felt the need to apologize to Tanya Dallas-Lewis, the county’s cultural diversity/staff coordinator, who had been specifically mentioned in previous public comments.

Joining Monday evening’s meeting via Zoom was Assata Moore, creator of the Black Math Genius program. Moore said she could be upset the program was taken down in Jefferson county by two individuals, allegedly the two members of the public who initially made public comment several weeks ago, but instead, she is a problem solver.

Moore then asked the board members what had been done over the decades that the math scores of Black students have fallen in Jefferson County.

“Seventy-five percent of your Black students are poor in math,” Moore said. “What has been done?”

According to Moore, Black students act out because they don’t see themselves as part of the class, adding that critical race theory is history, whether individuals believe it or not.

Following Moore’s comments, several community members also spoke, including Karen Buck, who said that after researching the program, she found it a good tool.

“But it’s not Common Core that the remainder of the students are stuck with,” she pointed out, adding that the school system has determined to remove such courses as advanced placement math courses. “You give to one and take away from another.”

Barbara Fuller also said the Black Math Genius program is a great tool, but added that the marketing of the program has created division in the community.

“Why focus on color instead of facts? You are targeting children of color saying they are somehow ‘less than,'” Fuller said, adding that this behavior is instilling racism in children.

Deb Hale called the program “blatant racism,” adding that the program is virtually available for a cost of $199 per student; however, Jefferson County showed a cost of $83,000 for the program.

“That’s $71,000 wasted,” Hale said, indicating the last report showed 59 students signed up for the program.

Hale noted that an individual online (under the title “Urban Intellectuals”) called out Jefferson County for postponing the program. The video, which was shared multiple times on social media, featured Freddie Taylor reporting that Jefferson County’s student population was 95 percent Black. Taylor went on to call the speakers at the Jefferson County Board of Education “Karens.”

“This is a racist term for white women who don’t agree with liberals,” Hale said, adding that the creator of the Black Math Genius program claims “public schools suppress Black students.”

“This course is racist propaganda,” Hale said. “Please keep political activism out of our public schools.”

Danielle Grant, on the other hand, saw the program as a tool for a specific group in need of help.

“I’m asking for this equal education opportunity,” she said.

Questions about a budget approval submitted to the board were also raised that showed the math program receiving nearly $4 million in federal relief fund dollars. Superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson indicated the line item actually reflected the total for federal funding, not what was to be spent on that specific program.

“To date, we have spent $13,000 on Black Math Genius,” Gibson said.

Additional questions on large amounts of the budget to be approved, including a $3 million “intra fund” transfer posed by Board member Donna Joy, went unanswered.

“There are a lot of big dollars in the budget and it’s hard to make sense of this,” Joy said.

Gibson indicated the board treasurer could speak at a future time to explain some of the information.

“Ms. Marrone can come back and show how it’s tracked,” Gibson said. “It leaves lots of room for misinterpretation out there.”

Regardless of Gibson’s comments, the board voted approval of the items without further explanations.