Elite prep schools aren’t the only institutions where teachers and students are being schooled in equity, diversity and anti-racism.
While the battles over woke pedagogy at New York City’s Brearley, Grace Church and Dalton academies play out on the national stage, less noticed have been the growing numbers of public school districts jumping on the diversity, equity and inclusion bandwagon — in blue and red states alike.
That includes crimson Oklahoma.
Last year, the Norman Public Schools hired its first full-time DEI director. According to documents obtained by the Parents Defending Education, it then spent $22,750 on equity consultants during the 2020-2021 academic year, even as the district lost students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nicole Neily, president and founder of the newly formed parents advocacy group, said the Norman school district’s social justice tilt is “part of a larger trend” in K-12 education.
“What’s interesting to me is that so many people have a misimpression that this is a California or Manhattan issue, and this shows that this is in red states. This is in conservative areas,” said Ms. Neily. “This is a public school district, but it’s in places where I think a lot of community members aren’t even aware that this is in their backyard.”
The group formed in March while parents were feuding with district officials over the growing influence of anti-racism and equity doctrine, sometimes called critical race theory. Critics contend that critical race theory is little more than repackaged Marxism, but schools say they are simply attempting to confront systemic racism and create a welcoming environment for all.
“This is a serious problem that parents are realizing across the country,” Elizabeth L. Schultz, a former Fairfax County school board member, said Thursday on Fox News. “The pandemic has revealed that our education system is being weaponized by school boards.”
Even as they struggle to reopen for in-person learning, school districts are moving briskly to set up offices of diversity, equity and inclusion, hire directors, bring in consultants for trainings and undergo “anti-racism audits.”
The trend is a few years old. In 2019, EdWeek reported that “deep-seated educational inequalities” had resulted in “the creation of positions and hiring of new senior staff members, often called chief equity officers, to lead that public reckoning.”
At the same time, the surge in interest over the past year suggests that the social justice push in schools received a boost from the Black Lives Matter protests that followed the May 2020 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
“From Beaverton, Oregon, to Wellesley, Massachusetts, we have noticed a pattern,” said Asra Q. Nomani, PDE vice president of strategy and investigations. “Since June 2020, high-priced ‘diversity, equity and inclusion’ activists and consultants have exploited George Floyd’s death to get millions of dollars in new business with school districts and schools around the country.”
In Indiana, Noblesville Schools hired its first equity and inclusion “coach” in November. A month later, Carmel Clay Schools brought on a DEI officer for the first time at an annual salary of $90,846, The Indianapolis Star reported.
In February, the Manchester School District in New Hampshire announced a job search for its first chief equity officer at an advertised annual salary of $110,000 to $120,000 as the system seeks to implement its Excellence and Equity for All Learners plan.
In Kentucky, the Paducah School Board approved the hiring of a chief equity officer in April after an 18-year-old photo of the superintendent in blackface appeared online. The job includes coordinating an equity audit with the University of Kentucky, according to The Paducah Sun.
In Norman, the district announced in June the hiring of Stephanie Williams as its first executive director charged with maintaining “a singular focus on advancing diversity, equity and inclusion in schools and workplaces.”
She led an 80-minute online teacher and staff training posted on YouTube on equity, which featured a quote from anti-racism guru Ibram X. Kendi. She described equity as “an ideological commitment that’s applied to everything that we do, not in addition to.”
“Equity will result in an individual or a group of individuals sometimes getting more,” she said, whereas with equality, “across the board, everybody gets the same.”
That’s a problem. “We’ve really got to think about what do people need? What are their starting points? What are the circumstances that maybe were beyond their control? Maybe they weren’t able to be afforded the same opportunities as others,” Ms. Williams said. “That’s what equity really calls us to do. It calls us to look at those situations individually.”
The district did not immediately return a request for comment, but Superintendent Nick Migliorino last year expressed support for creating the post and called it “a vital position in our district that must be sustained over time.”
Where the equity agenda has flourished, however, controversy has frequently followed.
Ms. Neily said her group, which formed on March 30 in reaction to the spread of critical race theory in schools, has unearthed public documents from multiple districts on behalf of parents and others alarmed about the heightened racial focus and left-wing political bias.
“A lot of the people who reach out to us are scared or nervous,” she said. “We file [Freedom of Information Act requests] because people don’t even want to put their names on things like that.”
In the case of Norman Public Schools, “I had both a parent and a state legislator reach out to me asking me to look into it, so we filed a FOIA, and the school district got back to me right away.”
The community has been more upfront in Loudoun County and Fairfax County, Virginia, where parents are openly sparring with school boards over the increasingly race-centric program, which isn’t necessarily cheap.
In Maryland, Montgomery County Schools allocated a whopping $454,000 for an “anti-racist system audit” by the Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium, according to documents obtained by Judicial Watch released Wednesday.
In Virginia, Fairfax County Public Schools agreed to pay $49,600 to the Leadership Academy, a New York-based consultant, for “survey and policy work,” as shown on documents posted by Parents Defending Education.
The survey “asks respondents biased, unscientific leading questions about upending a policy that requires teacher impartiality in discussing ‘controversial issues’ and creating a new ‘Anti-Racist, Anti-Bias Curriculum,’” according to the organization.
If districts are spending on equity trainings, consultants and auditing, asked Ms. Neily, then what is being shortchanged?
“How many children are reading at grade level in that school district? How many are performing math at grade level?” she asked. “Schools have gotten away on focusing on what we send our kids to school for, and when they turn into these other things, what are they not doing?”