On July 8, 2021, Havertown citizens opposed to the district’s Critical Race Theory-themed “BASIS” initiatives gathered at their local school board meeting to voice their disapproval. One board member, Kristin Larsen, baselessly accused her critics of threatening her with a firearm.
BASIS stands for “Belonging and Sociocultural Identities in Schools.” BASIS includes several explicitly political materials, though said materials are often sugarcoated. The district uses Ibram X. Kendi’s work in teacher training sessions, the high school principal attended a “racial literacy workshop” with a Professor of Urban Education & Africana Studies, and students and staff attended the “Women’s Leadership Conference at Penn with former First Lady Michelle Obama.”
Critics of the district’s agenda are routinely labeled as racist or told that there is nothing political about BASIS, despite it borrowing heavily from anti-white Critical Race Theory. While not indicative of the township’s overall political leanings or support for the program, the room was clearly more on the side of those opposed on the night of the July 8 meeting. This seemed to fluster one board member in particular, Kristin Larsen.
The first speaker to mention BASIS was a Havertown mother with multiple children attending district schools. She took issue with their inclusion of Ibram X. Kendi’s work in BASIS. “The work of Kendi is inappropriate for children of any age. The concepts are adult concepts and have no business in K-12,” she said. “Please stop indoctrinating our children.”
While critical of the school board, she did not go over her allotted time and delivered her comments respectfully. There were no verbal interruptions during her comments, nor were there any interjections afterwards. Many in the room did begin to loudly clap as she was finishing up, however, which prompted an insult from Kristen Larsen.
“There seem to be a-lot of followers in this room,” Larsen quipped as the applause died down. From there, attendees became very upset. There was about 30 seconds of shouting followed by some attendees loudly calling for Larsen’s resignation. “That was uncalled for,” a resident shouted at Haverford School Board President Larry Feinberg.
From there, the meeting definitely had a more tense atmosphere. There were occasional interjections from the crowd at this point, clearly provoked by Larsen’s insult. The crowd continued to clap after speakers aligned with them delivered comments. Mid-way through the meeting, amidst applause, Larsen again made a comment directed at the attendees.
At the July 8 meeting, Larsen accused a Havertown citizen of threatening her with a gun. “Sir, do you have a threat that you’d like to speak out loud,” Larsen asked. “I’m sorry I heard someone say that they had a gun and I find that concerning!”
Nobody heard this gun threat. This reporter attended the meeting and did not hear it, nor did my colleague. An attending Philadelphia Inquirer reporter did not report on it. Nothing can be heard on the district’s recording or on videos from attendees, all suggesting that Larsen either misheard the word “gun” or fabricated the incident. Larsen’s accusations again drew the ire of the crowd.
This is not the first dubious claim that has been pushed by Larsen. In 2016, Larsen’s husband, Jonathan Larsen, told Philly Mag that he found a poorly written “racist note” on the hood of his car. “In 2016 we need to vote American, we need to vote Christian, we need to vote white and we need to vote the Obama regime out of office everyone of them,” the note stated.
According to the story, Jonathan Larsen — who currently serves as Vice-Chairman of the Haverford Democratic Party — then called his wife: “Larsen called his wife, Kristin Larsen, who got on the phone with neighbors and others in the community and found that the Larsens weren’t the only family to get the note,” the piece said. Kristin Larsen was then quoted in the article. “I’m afraid that there are people around us with these views and they feel comfortable enough given the climate to share those views. And then, of course, I began to become suspicious. Did these come from my neighbors?”
The piece also included a quote from Rachel Amdur, who served as vice-chair of the Haverford Democratic Party at the time and now serves as its president. “They live in a neighborhood with a lot of Trump signs,” Amdur said. “It’s sad, but it’s not shocking.” The validity of the note was never verified, nor was the supposed author ever discovered. The only evidence of this note’s existence are quotes from active and high-ranking township Democrats, including the Larsens.
The gun threat claim was then elevated to dangerous levels at the following board meeting on July 22. At this meeting, the crowd was certainly more mixed. Several Havertown citizens spoke in support of the BASIS program this time in a comment portion that ran significantly longer. At the start of the night, Feinberg motioned to two Haverford Police officers who were seated beside the board members. He said that if interruptions were to occur, the officers would escort disruptors out. He implied that the disruptions were caused by unruly parents while failing to address Larsen’s comments.
Kristin Larsen was notably absent from this meeting. Her comments were referenced and criticized by multiple residents over the course of the night. Her resignation was called for several times, citing her “unprofessional” comments from a supposedly apolitical board. Towards the end of the meeting, a Havertown resident by the name of Joe Anzuena stated multiple falsehoods in a comment filled with attacks on the taxpayers opposed to BASIS. Most disturbingly, Anzuena referenced Larsen’s alleged gun threat and added to it.
Anzuena began his monologue with a personal attack directed at parents opposed to the district’s agenda. “Two weeks ago, a woman stood in front of a microphone and bemoaned the idea that her kids might potentially be exposed to some adult content,” he began. “She cherry picked a passage, from a book that is optional, on a list for high school students, and held it up as evidence of ‘indoctrination’, or some other nonsense.”
This is the first of many falsehoods from Anzuena’s statement. Ibram Kendi’s work is far from an “optional reading” in regards to Haverford’s BASIS program. Kendi’s work is currently cited in training sessions for teachers, as was Robin Diangelo’s “White Fragility” as of 2019. “Books such as ‘Stamped From The Begginning’ and ‘How to Be An Anti-Racist’ by Ibram X. Kendi have really provided a historical lens from which to move forward,” said a Haverford teacher during the board’s BASIS presentation on July 17, 2020.
Anzuena then continued his personal attacks before claiming that all opposed to the district’s initiatives had come from outside Havertown. “Her audience was the mob that had come from Springfield and Ridley and King of Prussia. People who gathered online and who followed, and I’m using that word specifically, who followed a herd of actors whose true interests have nothing to do with kids in this district.”
He then said that critics were there to “intimidate” the board while regurgitating Larsen’s gun claim. “Last meeting there was a violent threat,” he said without evidence. He then, again without evidence, referenced an online threat to bring a semi-automatic rifle to the next board meeting, which of course didn’t happen. “Need I be explicit with an audience of evidence about the tacit message that attaches to an AR, in a school building,” he shouted. Anzuena then chastised the board for allowing school board meetings to become “a dangerous place” and called for the silencing of critics.
The accusations of violent threats have not been corroborated, but appear to be accepted as truth. The Haverford Police Department has an open investigation regarding the alleged gun threat. The presence of officers at the meeting would indicate that the board’s claims of being violently threatened by parents critical of their agenda, have been successful.
The next Haverford School Board meeting is set for August 5.