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The elite D.C. prep school at the center of Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearing

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) holds up the children's book "Antiracist Baby" by Ibram X. Kendi as he questions Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson during her testimony before a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 22, 2022. REUTERS/Michael A. McCoy TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY (Michael Mccoy/Reuters)
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Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have zeroed in on Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s service on the board of a wealthy D.C. private school during her Supreme Court confirmation hearing. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) complained that the school tells children they “can choose their own gender and teaches them about so-called White privilege.” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said the school, which also educates Jackson’s daughter and is known for its focus on social justice and diversity, “is filled and overflowing with critical race theory.”

In the hearings and in conservative media, Georgetown Day School — which is in a wealthy area of overwhelmingly Democratic D.C. — has proved a useful foil for social conservatives who think American schools are teaching students inappropriate materials about sex, gender, White privilege and “critical race theory,” which has become a catchall label for lessons on race and history.

Founded in 1945, Georgetown Day was the first racially integrated school in the nation’s capital. It is a sought-after institution where students call teachers by their first names and study a “progressive curriculum." Annual tuition is more than $40,000.

On March 22, Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson responded to charges made by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) that critical race theory influenced her work (Video: The Washington Post)

The school, which educates more than 1,000 students, publishes a detailed “anti-racism action plan” online and, according to an article in the student newspaper, requires parents to sign an enrollment contract saying they are committed to the school’s anti-racism efforts. The school hosted a “Transgender Day of Visibility” last year, and some parents belong to a White anti-racist group “that empowers White allies to show up effectively, reliably, and meaningfully for racial justice.”

Jackson has served on the board since 2019. Current and former board members include an impressive roster of powerful Washingtonians, including former U.S. attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr and D.C. Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5). Lisa Fairfax, a law professor and Jackson’s Harvard roommate, is the board’s current chair. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, whose children attended the school, once sat on the board.

During the confirmation hearing Tuesday, Cruz revealed a stack of controversial books that he said are taught or are available at Georgetown Day and questioned Jackson about the book “AntiRacist Baby” by Ibram X. Kendi.

“This is a book that is taught at Georgetown Day School to students in pre-K through second grade,” he said, as he displayed blown up pictures from the book. “Do you agree with this book that is being taught with kids, that babies are racist?” he asked.

Jackson answered: “I do not believe that any child should be made to feel as though they are racist, or though they are not valued, or though they are less than, that they are victims, that they are oppressors. I do not believe in any of that.”

The head of Georgetown Day did not respond to requests for comment on the exchange. More than a half-dozen board members and staff members also did not respond to questions about the school’s curriculum and what responsibilities fall to the board.

But although the board does not shape the curriculum — that falls to the head of school — it does approve some social initiatives, including the anti-racism enrollment pledge, according to multiple people familiar with school’s operations and reporting in the student newspaper. The school credits the board’s chair with guiding the school’s “institutional growth around anti-racism.”

Trustees’ main responsibility, however, is overseeing the finances of the school, according to staffers and former board members, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly about the school. McDuffie told the student newspaper, the Augur Bit, that Jackson works with him on the “Facilities Master Planning Committee” and that she has brought a “special eye for nuance and complex legal issues.”

Jackson did not detail her work on the board during the hearing, but she issued a sweeping defense of her involvement in the school, saying that the school is a private institution and that any parent who enrolls a child there does so willingly. She cited the school’s history and informed Cruz that it was founded by a group of Jewish and Black families at a time when schools were still segregated.

“Georgetown Day School has a special history that I think is important to understand when you consider my service on that board,” she said. “The idea of equality — justice — is at the core of the Georgetown Day School mission.”

Students and staffers say Jackson is a typical and involved parent at the school. She and her husband are among a long list of parents who volunteer to speak to classes about their professions. The school newspaper noted that Jackson informed the school about a citywide mock trial event in which students argued constitutional cases in front of D.C. federal judges. A history class signed up to participate.

Aidan Kohn-Murphy, a senior and the student body president at Georgetown Day, said the school doesn’t shy from teaching students about systemic racism and issues of gender identity, even in younger grades. He said the school offers a wide variety of courses and electives — including women and literature, creative writing and African history — and students are exposed to countless books. He hadn’t read any of the books about law enforcement and race that Cruz showed to the hearing but thinks they may be available for his schoolmates to read.

Kohn-Murphy said his schoolmates watched the hearings unfold and were shocked that the aspects of the school in which they took pride were thrust onto the national stage in such a negative light.

“Everyone is having a reaction of confused pride,” he said. “A commitment to racial justice and accepting everyone’s identity — to be put on a national scale as an attack is confusing.”

Head of School Russell Shaw, who did not respond to requests for comment, told students that he expects Jackson to step down from the board.