‘Critical race debate’ arrives in Cooperstown with a counteroffensive

‘Critical race debate’
arrives in Cooperstown
with a counteroffensive

By GREG KLEIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

The “winner” in the first round of the “great” “critical race theory” “debate” was apparently masks, coronavirus rules and perhaps the ability of a Facebook post to inspire passions on both sides and not just with its intended target.

The Fox News-style controversy over the teaching of American history to American students arrived at the Cooperstown Board of Education on Wednesday, June 16, in the cafeteria of the middle/high school on Linden Avenue just outside of Cooperstown in the town of Otsego.

More than 50 people spaced out through the cafeteria, at least a dozen mingled in both the hallway outside and in the parking lot, and 12 people spoke during the half-hour public comment session designed for members of the public to give feedback to members of the BOE. At least 20 people stayed through the tedium of an hour-plus long meeting to hear if there would be more discussion on the topic and awaited another public comment session, where two speakers addressed the board again on the topic of the moment in right-wing news.

There was no motion before the board to teach the theory, although the state Board of Education did recently launch an initiative that requires BOEs statewide to adopt policies and resolutions that affirm diversity, tolerance and inclusiveness.

Of the 12 speakers, only two expressed opposition to the teaching of whatever they defined as critical race theory and neither spoke directly about it.

Pete Russo, who also spoke at the end of the evening, mostly spoke about Marxism, and the Marxist idea that the worse aspects of capitalism were by design and not accident, drawing occasional laughter from the audience and an admonishment from BOE President Tim Hayes to the audience to not react in a way that harms the purpose of the open comment session. Russo did not wear a mask, leading Hayes to ask that speakers recognize that the school had different rules than other parts of society that are now dropping mask mandates.

Former Cooperstown Elementary School Principal Doug Geertgens mostly spoke about the state requirements and the issue of federal and state control of teaching standards. He said as an educator he objected to the idea that schools did a bad job teaching before and he did not feel there was an urgent need to address inequality in teaching or teaching standards now.

Geertgens was later overheard in the parking lot promoting a online article* that hypothesizes about the coming war between conservatives and liberals. He affirmed the war was coming.

Paula DiPerna also spoke twice, stressing the need for an honest teaching of history and warning the BOE that getting caught up in social controversies is a way to abandon its educational mission.

The remainder of the speakers discussed the need to teach history honestly, even the parts of American history that deal with racism and bigotry. While several of the speakers spoke about the definitions of critical race theory that seem to be motivating the debate, more spoke about parts of history they never learned in school, using the Tulsa Race Massacre and the causes of the Civil War as examples.

Occasionally, the messages were personal, such as when Cooperstown Central School graduate Sam Ross spoke about growing up gay in Cooperstown. Ross said he was still shaking with fear about speaking decades later as he recalled getting harassed in the cafeteria, sometimes even by school administrators and teachers. He said if CCS does not teach diversity and inclusion then it will create another generation of graduates who tremble with fear when required to speak their truth. He got hugs and pats on the back as he left the meeting, passing by the opposition group, unmasked and occasionally red-hatted.

The discussion began as a Facebook post in the group Hartwick Politics & Everything Else by Hartwick resident Bryan LoRusso, who is running in the Republican primary for town supervisor in the primary election Tuesday, June 22. LoRusso’s post asked anyone who wanted to discuss “the curriculum and school material being promoted regarding topics such as teaching of critical race theory, diversity, inclusion and sexual identity” to meet at his barn for a pre-meeting discussion and then attend and speak out to the BOE. The post reached its intended target as well as a much larger school community that organized to show up and tell the board its views, too.

LoRusso and several family members did sign in at the meeting and congregated, for part of the meeting in the lobby of the cafeteria and later outside the school. However, he did not speak, either because of time constraints, Hayes enforcing the mask requirement or other reasons. With 50 members of the public inside the cafeteria and another 10 or 15 people both inside the lobby and outside in the parking lot, there appeared to be about 75 members of the public at the meeting, with the LoRusso group making up a fourth or fifth of the total group.

Most of the meeting, the last of the 2020-2021 school year, dealt with end-of-year business, but Superintendent Sarah Spross did brief the board on the policy requirements and noted that typically state requirements come quickly, demand action and sometimes are a work in progress. She said ultimately the local BOE does have to comply with the state standards and pass a statement and approve policies that affirm that commitment to diversity, tolerance and inclusiveness.

* An earlier version of this story said Doug Geertgens was referencing a book he read. In a follow-up conversation, Geertgens said he does not ready many books and was likely referencing a website.


16 thoughts on “‘Critical race debate’ arrives in Cooperstown with a counteroffensive

  1. Traci Dilello

    Greg Klein, I see you named Bryan LoRusso and his family multiple times in your article. Did you reach out for a comment from Bryan or any member of the LoRusso family? Seems like any good reporter would want to report facts instead of conjecture. As you “reported” multiple members of the family were in the hall. Why didn’t you walk over and ask for comment?? Seems like lazy “journalism”.

  2. Garrett deBlieck

    To what relevence is Lorusso with regard to the school board meeting?? Is this the new pattern of “reporting” where one is identified and characterized….without speaking to them at all?

  3. Susan Prew

    This reporter’s summary of last night’s meeting is so biased and unprofessional, that it jumps off the page as a new low in journalism for the Freeman’s Journal! You at this newspaper should all be congratulating each other….. you’ve managed to sink to a new low!

  4. Chip Northrup

    Good report of the meeting. The books in question include “Driving While Black” and other books about the history of race relations in America – none of which have anything to do with Marxist conspiracy theories. The school should and will stick to teaching factually accurate history, including the inconvenient facts of race relations – not get dragged into politically divisive conspiracy theories. This is American History 101, not QAnonSense For Dummies.

  5. Anonymous

    Why is this a “Fox News-style controversy?” This is an ongoing dialogue happening between taxpayers and the districts they fund, throughout the nation. Many need to mind the hubris when advocating for a comprehensive solution, regardless of their proposed solution.

    The specific reporting on the ancillary mask compliance matters seems out of place. More attendee feedback would have helped this piece.

    If this is reporting, treat it as such; otherwise, properly identify it as editorial or opinion.

  6. rosemary martin

    You seem to have a liberal democrat writing your story? CRT is not truth, and should not be allowed in our schools. The left is pushing an agenda and it is wrong. Many parents of many races are speaking out AGAINST CRT because it is not fact but “Theory” and it is harming children. CRT is anti God, anti America. This lady grew up in a communist country. Listen. https://www.facebook.com/yaliberty/videos/930371044454371

  7. Jake h

    Seems to me this was more of a report on the activity of a local person and not a report on the meeting. From what little reporting there was it sounds like most people are very much against teaching critical race Theory in public schools and I think most would agree that even now they do not teach enough accurate history especially about racism.

  8. Eric Bravin

    Questions for the author of this article:
    How is Mr. LoRusso’s presence germane to this article? Is it simply because he had a meeting with some friends from Facebook to discuss his position on the issue?
    He did not speak at the meeting, so if he was to be covered so extensively he should have been asked to offer an on the record comment for publication.

    Likewise with Mr. Geertgens, who is respected for having served the district in the past. He offered remarks that were on the record, but then a rather inflammatory statement is attributed to him, “overheard” in the parking lot. Comments like that should be on the record if they are being published. It’s too easy to misconstrue or take something out of context when it’s overheard in a parking lot.

  9. Adrian Kuzminski

    A news story citing sources such as “later overheard in the parking lot” should never make it into print. What’s going on here? Embarrassing for the FJ.

  10. Michael C.

    Any truth to the rumors that people were being heckled in the parking lot by Lorusso and the current highway supervisor for Hartwick, Koffer? Ignorant at best.

  11. portia

    I must agree with others that the reporting is abysmal. From the beginning of the story, it was a snarky opinion piece rather than an account of a meeting.
    Whether intentional or inadvertent, there does not seem to be an explanation as to exactly what Critical Race Theory is, either in the account or in the discussions at the meeting. It is not about including the racial warts of American history, nor about teaching students what used to be referred to as the Golden Rule. Unfortunately, it is much more insidious than that. It is about dividing students into oppressors and victims, teaching them either that they bear the burden of someone’s ancestor of the same skin hue; or that they are unable to succeed in society on their own, without the help of their former oppressors.
    Now that will really make for some harmonious student relations.

  12. johnnyboy 13326

    The cat is out of the bag, friends. The facts are there and readily available. More and more good, grassroots citizens are (at last!) becoming aware of the efforts of the NYS DOE, NYS Board of Regents, Cooperstown Central School BOE, Cooperstown PTA and Cooperstown Village Library, through a revisionist and condemnatory prism, to upend and overturn the historical view of America as flawed (as are all systems of government) but fundamentally good and worthy of preservation. Bring on this long overdue debate. The bizarrely maniacal push to systemically entrench a scattershot neo-racist, punitive paradigm of governance as a redress of past sins is odious, and will fail.

  13. Anonymous

    I was targeted in the parking lot after being turned away from the meeting due to the meeting being at capacity. I was told in a nasty tone by a man in a red hat, who was passing out anti CRT propaganda (that I refused to accept), to take my kids and get out.

    Another man was loudly and angrily explaining the paper to another group of people, who were clearly debating him.

    I sat in my car to listen to the meeting on zoom, and some people were going car to car and bothering other people doing the same. Cooperstown police circled a few times.

    During the meeting, it was explained several times that Cooperstown Central School district is mandated by the state of NY to teach diversity and inclusion, which are for some reason, being equated with “Critical Race Theory”, as reported by Fox news and other conservative media networks.

    Bryan LoRusso (currently running for town supervisor in Hartwick) is attempting to collect supporters by using national talking points rather than addressing his plan for the town of Hartwick.

  14. Garrett deblieck

    I have written to many newspapers over the past 25 years. How this CRT topic is being handled by this paper is attrocious. It is hardly a review of the CRT issue than it is a smear campaign against a running candidate in another town from Cooperstown. And further yet, to allow an “anonymous” post here which literally repeats the heavily biased leftist narrative.


  15. onthego54

    I was personally upset when I read the article and later, I spoke to Mr. Klein asking him about the Fox reference and why he was fanning flames trying to create an “us vs them” with the headline and the way the article was written. I am happy to see that there were many discerning readers who felt compelled to comment as well. I was particularly upset by the “overheard” comment attributed to me that mentioned my affirmation of a war that was coming which was not true at all. Mr. Klein claimed in a previous article about himself to be unbiased but his true colors showed through clearly in this bit of reporting.

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