Days after Fox News accused Chandler of indoctrinating students with a “radical” curriculum, parents assembled before a local school board to condemn it others advocated for it.
Speakers told the Chandler Unified School District Governing Board Nov. 13 that they thought certain materials used to train teachers on classroom inequalities were “problematic” and should be removed.
But other attendees argued against such demands, accusing the other side of being misinformed.
The conflict has been regularly discussed since Chandler Unified implemented its equity and inclusion program last year to address significant differences in performance and discipline involving different racial groups of students.
The issue garnered a national audience last week after “Tucker Carlson Tonight” mentioned Chandler in a segment on school districts adopting equity training.
“They’re not teaching anything having to do with math or science or English or language,” Fox News Host Tucker Carlson said during the segment. “They’re teaching racial activism, certain to confuse and wound and divide our kids of all colors.”
Parent Kurt Rohrs said it was embarrassing for the district to receive such publicity and encouraged the board to disassociate CUSD from the equity materials.
“It has exposed the district to criticism and ridiculed by the national media, tarnishing its reputation,” he said.
District spokesman Terry Locke disputed how Fox News’ characterization of the equity program, calling the segment a “hit job.”
The conservative media outlet focused on the Corwin company and materials it publishes called “Deep Equity.” Fox News said the materials “attacks” students on “the basis of their skin.”
Locke emailed Fox News and explained how CUSD used selected portions of Corwin’s training to help meet the needs of its diverse student population, writing, “educational equity is not a social or political platform or belief system.”
Fox News did not mention Locke’s statement in its segment.
Chandler Unified began adopting equity initiatives after a video capturing five San Tan Junior High students singing along to a racially offensive song was obtained by the media in January 2018.
That and data on performance and discipline involving different racial groups of students prompted the district to introduce equity initiatives that could address broader issues in the district – including a lack of teacher diversity.
Many districts across the country – including Tempe Union and Mesa Public Schools.
A couple months after the high-profile video incident, CUSD’s board approved spending about $962,000 over five years on Corwin’s equity training materials.
The company describes its equity program as aiming to “change the culture and climate across an organization in order to achieve long-term, sustainable change that addresses the root causes of educational inequities.”
Michelle Dillard, a Mesa mother with children in Gilbert Public Schools, objects to portions she’s seen of Corwin’s materials and thinks they do the opposite of what equity’s intended to do.
“We’ve always been told not to judge by skin color, but that program actually explicitly says ‘see color.’ I think that is the wrong direction to take,” Dillard said.
Rhonda Doolen, a board member of the East Valley Institute of Technology, told the school board she thinks there are equity gaps that should be addressed, but rejected Corwin’s materials -- claiming excerpts of the curriculum made her want to “vomit.”
Several speakers defended Chandler Unified’s equity program and urged the district not to discontinue it.
“The sad part is that those opposed to equity would rather cut off help their own children need before admitting to certain obvious truths about this country,” said Dr. Dionne Mills, parent to CUSD students.
Jennifer Redd, parent to students in the Kyrene School District, thanked CUSD for paving the way for other East Valley districts to start equity programs. She feels it’s necessary in order to achieve real systematic changes.
“It’s designed to address opportunity gaps, it’s designed to address discipline gaps,” Redd said. “The data is real. These aren’t imagined numbers.”
According to data CUSD publishes online, African-American students were disciplined at a per capita rate of .34 in 2017 while Caucasian students were disciplined at a rate of .09.
Arizona State University Associate Professor Melanie Bertrand told the board she specializes in equity issues and said any district that’s not addressing it is doing a disservice to its students.
Forest Moriarty, founder of the Purple for Parents advocacy group, said he supports the program’s intention of promoting equality, but thinks the Corwin materials encourage teachers to condemn one race over the other.
It’s so egregious, he said, that he intends to file complaints with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office against Corwin.
Locke said the district’s equity program will continue to evolve and Corwin’s materials will remain in place. The district will continue communicating with parents of the program’s true intentions, he added.
“We’ve been trying all along” he said, “it’s an ongoing challenge.”