CHAGRIN FALLS — About 35 people gathered in Chagrin Falls Township Hall on Tuesday for a discussion on critical race theory with Jane Timken, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate. The seat is currently held by Rob Portman, who announced that he is not running for re-election. His seat is up for grabs in the fall 2022 election.

Ms. Timken, 54, of Canton said she heard from parents across the state who are concerned with school districts teaching critical race theory to their children. The creation of the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice (DEIJ) Task Force in the Chagrin Falls Exempted Village Schools created a harsh division between supporters and opponents. This topic has also been a controversial issue in the Solon City School District.

“In my mind, this is against the teachings of Martin Luther King and we are to judge each other based on the content of our character, not the color of our skin,” Ms. Timken said of critical race theory. “It is dividing America. I think putting children in boxes, based on how they were born, they have no choice. I think it also sends the wrong message to black and brown kids that they are victims and that they will never succeed. It’s absolutely wrong and un-American.”

The group of people who attended the event, some of whom declined to share their names, stated concerns with an intrusion of privacy. One woman said that the DEIJ Task Force in the Chagrin Falls schools plans to implement the teachings of critical race theory to children whether the parents support it or not. She said that if someone does not agree with the school’s ideals, there will be a panel to “re-educate” you. The woman said that people who want to believe in the DEIJ goals can, but it should not be forced upon all parents and students.

Erin Gooch of South Russell attended the event. She is running for the Chagrin Falls Board of Education as a write-in candidate for the Nov. 2 election. Ms. Gooch, a 2001 graduate of Chagrin Falls High School, said she has lived in Chagrin Falls since she was 6 years old. She now works as a mental and behavioral health nurse practitioner with kids growing up in the inner city.

“I 100-percent agree with anti-bullying programs in Chagrin Falls. I was bullied in Chagrin, I grew up in Chagrin. I believe in teaching kids right and wrong,” Ms. Gooch said. “But the specific programs that I firmly believe are critical race theory are being masked. It’s critical race theory. But people don’t want to open up to listen to even the facts.”

Ms. Timken said that Congress appropriates funds to the U.S. Department of Education, which uses the funding as a “carrot” for local school boards. The school boards want the funding, but they must implement whatever training or program the department of education requires, she said. Ms. Timken said that school boards should retain local control but “that chain needs to be cut off.” She said that the U.S. Department of Education is not effective and is not worth taxpayer dollars. One attendee said that teaching critical race theory is cloaked as DEIJ, which Ms. Timken compared to the Cultural Revolution in China in 1966.

“It is very similar to the Chinese cultural revolution because it’s all about wordsmithing and almost gaslighting people,” Ms. Timken said. When someone says they are opposed to critical race theory, they are labeled a racist, she said. Ms. Timken said it is the opposite because critical race theory is creating racial divisions and segregating people.

Jo Royer, 76, of South Russell said that there is suddenly a push to divide people. She and her husband, Bob, 83, volunteered with the Inner City Republican Movement and spent two years listening to the needs of people in the inner city. They attended a meeting at a black church in Cleveland where ministers and local leaders said they wanted jobs. There was no mention of rampant racism, she said, but the push to address racism may have started after the death of George Floyd in May of 2020.

Mr. Royer said many people agree that they are concerned with critical race theory, but asked what they can do about it. Ms. Timken said that they should inform themselves, run for local school boards and talk to teachers to learn about the books their students are reading.

“It’s up to us from the bottom up to save America, the regular people,” Marie Lovas of Burton said.

Jackie Rohr, 70, of Chagrin Falls said that those concerned about critical race theory need to talk to people with opposing views. She said that they need to start a dialogue that is not threatening to get other people to think about different points of view.

“This is grassroots activity that’s underway, and it begins here,” Dave Gooch, 68, of Bainbridge said. “This group has to vote. More importantly, start with the school board. If you like the message, you’ve got to get out and talk to people about the issues and talk to people about Jane Timken and her views. It all starts here.”

This event was hosted by the Western Reserve Women’s Republican Club.

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

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