-A member of the Fort Worth school board’s Racial Equity Committee struck a nerve with some residents when he argued in a column that “wealthy white folks” are controlling the back-to-school debate, with some saying his column labeled a large swath of people as racist.

Max Krochmal serves as a volunteer co-chair of the school board-appointed committee. On Sept. 22, the day the school board was set to vote again on the back-to-school date, an opinion column by Krochmal about the online learning debate appeared in the Fort Worth Weekly.

He wrote that “the demands for ‘rigor’ and ‘choice’ and now ‘in-person’ activities from the ultra-privileged have a habit of steamrolling other voices and our collective conversations on equity.”

Krochmal, who is an associate professor of history at TCU, said “wealthy white folks demand in-person learning” without regarding the cost to marginalized communities, who might not have health insurance or be able to pay for medical care if they contracted COVID-19.

“The folks in Tanglewood, Benbrook, and — worse — those who have already abandoned FWISD are insulated from the full effects of COVID,” he wrote.

Krochmal argued that some people demanding in-person learning were showing “dripping paternalism and, yes, racism toward Black and Brown families.”

Petition calls for removal

Suzanne Asfar started a petition against calling for Krochmal’s removal from the Equity Committee. As of Tuesday morning, 197 people had signed.

“I was just appalled,” Asfar said. “I couldn’t believe the rhetoric the article used. It’s race-baiting, it’s divisive. It’s unbelievable to me.”

Asfar, who lives in Burton Hill, said she sees the option of in-person learning as more equitable than everyone being forced to continue online learning. Online learning does not work for her daughter, who is deaf, she said.

She also defended those who chose to pull their kids out of the district to continue learning at private schools.

“Parents are going to do the best option for their kids, and if they can afford private school and get them started immediately, they’re going to do it,” she said. “I don’t think that makes them racist. I don’t think that makes them wrong.”

Krochmal said that those who are upset about the column read his statements as generalizations of “all white folks” or “all residents of Tanglewood” or “all people who advocate for in-person learning.'”

But he says that’s not what the piece said — instead, he said it specified he was talking about a certain group of people “in Fort Worth whose voice carries more weight.”

“The issue of in-person or not is not really about race, and really that’s not what my piece was about either,” he said. “My piece was about how do these decisions get made in my district. And I’m saying, they get made by these rich white people calling the shots.”

Debate over return to school

Tatiana Miller is a Mexican immigrant who supports children returning to in-person schooling.

“I was born in Mexico City, and I look white. If you don’t know who I am, you can’t make a judgment based on my skin color. That’s what this equity committee is supposed to be about.”

Krochmal said he knows that some African-American or Latino families want to return to school while others do not. He focused on those who want to continue virtual learning because people of color are historically left out of conversations, and the debate about schooling in Fort Worth has been no different, he said.

“There’s still an often unacknowledged or even unnoticed tendency to prioritize the voices of more privileged people,” he said.

Miller’s husband is a FWISD teacher, and her child attends a school outside FWISD. While she’s faced some racism in Fort Worth, Miller said Krochmal’s column was “very divisive, and that’s not what the school district should be about.”

“If you want to create equity, you don’t do it by making people feel bad or by putting people in a box and judging them,” Miller said. “You create equity by teaching people how to have unity and respect for one another.”

Krochmal welcomes the conversation surrounding his piece and has no plans to leave his position on the Equity Committee.

“I will continue to do that work, and I urge people who feel slighted to examine why they feel slighted,” he said. “Especially if they read the piece carefully, is it really about domination of a small handful of elites.”

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