Parents should “pull their kids” from schools that offer “destructive” racial equity curricula that portray whites as privileged oppressors, multiple sources in a Kansas City-area district say.
This comes after a teacher in the Shawnee Mission School District (SMSD) wrote an op-ed warning patrons and parents that, “Yes, your children are being indoctrinated.”
“We are being manipulated and intimidated by a divisive ‘woke’ ideology that is creating a culture of contempt and disrespect,” wrote Caedran Sullivan, an Advanced Placement English teacher at Shawnee Mission North High School.
The district’s “white-shaming” Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) training, centered around Critical Race Theory, is “fostering a toxic environment” for students and teachers, she wrote, citing colleagues who’ve left the district and others who are contemplating doing so.
Sullivan was immediately attacked online and in a district board board meeting, with one education bureaucrat claiming in a tweet that her op-ed was “full of lies.”
It’s not, say a parent, a former teacher and an aspiring teacher familiar with the district’s DEI and “Deep Equity” curricula.
“I can’t speak to the environment because I don’t work there,” an informed parent who asked for anonymity told The Lion. But the parent said Sullivan’s “claims about Deep Equity and what it contains are true. In fact, it’s worse than she even knows. I’d like to be able to share the facilitator’s guide with her. (Teachers) are being purposefully manipulated and coerced. They are purposely seated, grouped, isolated and shamed to break down their resistance.”
Parent Elaine Cluff-Gleason certainly seems to know. She moved to the Shawnee Mission district outside of Kansas City in 2020 from her childhood home in Arizona, where she was a teaching intern in the Chandler area. She recalls undergoing the Corwin Deep Equity training there, which she and others recoiled from in revulsion.
Cluff-Gleason had hoped to teach in SMSD. But the presence of the same Deep Equity training in SMSD that she was exposed to in Arizona prompted her to homeschool her son and even others’ children instead.
Deep Equity? ‘Absolutely not.’
“I found out they were using this Corwin Deep Equity program, and I was like, ‘Yep, absolutely not,’” she told The Lion. “When I found out that they were doing the Deep Equity, my husband and I decided that I’m just not going to teach in public schools.
“I pulled my son and I started a homeschool program, just because I knew how destructive the training was. The parents and the teachers got together and actually had it pulled out of Chandler. They actually stopped the training.”
Indeed, the Chandler school district abandoned the pricey Corwin program after parents and teachers such as Kelsey Rowe spoke out passionately about it.
“I have felt isolated, frustrated, discriminated against and incredibly conflicted,” Rowe, who is white, told her school board. The program, she said, “influences and promotes political and religious bigotry.” After the program began innocently enough, she said it developed into an “insidious ideology” that creates conflict among leaders and students.
“This is a hostility that I have personally experienced,” Rowe said. “And this hostility is embedded within the curriculum. … I have experienced this hostility because of my race, my gender and – I would like to emphasize – my religion. … I have been told that the program is meant to create an awareness within teachers regarding their white, Christian privilege and inherent racism – to help them have better relationships with students.”
Much like the criticism of Sullivan’s op-ed, Rowe said the Chandler district – before it ended the use of it – had claimed publicly that opponents of the Deep Equity program were “steeped in misinformation.”
Cluff-Gleason couldn’t agree more with Rowe, after having been steeped herself in Chandler’s soon-to-be abandoned Deep Equity training.
“It is such a divisive, anti-white training,” Cluff-Gleason says. “It really, truly divides people. It really does make for a hostile work environment. The whole point of it is to get you to understand that you have privilege because you’re white. That’s the whole point of it. Even though they don’t say that, right?
“So, you’re pointing out that your white coworkers are very privileged because they’re white; they haven’t been through this stuff because they’re white. Which is such a falsehood all in itself.”
‘Feel like ripping my white skin off’
If citing white privilege was the aim, they may have had the wrong target in Cluff-Gleason. Her father died when she was a child; she had been pulled over on an Indian reservation for the color of her skin; and, at least in Arizona, she was the target of racist hatred in the workplace for being so white. The result: When the Deep Equity program’s questionnaire tried to identify privilege in her background, it failed miserably, she says.
According to the Corwin site, “The Deep Equity framework, based on the work of Gary Howard, helps schools and districts establish the climate, protocols, common language, and common goal of implementing culturally responsive practices necessary for equity in schools.”
Howard, a teacher, author and consultant who has written of “White man dancing: a story of personal transformation,” and “How We Are White,” notes that he has “encountered an almost universal uneasiness about race among White educators,” and that one teacher told him, “I realize that I have contributed to the failure of my students of color by not being able to drop the mask of privilege that I wear.”
Howard reports unabashedly that after his teaching, one young student said, “Mr. Howard, I feel like ripping my white skin off.”
Cluff-Gleason says in the Deep Equity training she received in Arizona, the teachers were broken up into “affinity groups” segregated by such characteristics as race, gender identity and sexual orientation. “They explain to you in the training that these marginalized groups need a safe space,” presumably away from white heterosexuals.
The training, she said, tells teachers “that the minority students in their classes are failing because of (the teachers’) unconscious biases against them. So, you’re telling your teachers it’s not your teaching, or it’s not the student – it’s that you are unconsciously racist against them and you’re sabotaging them.
“And so, what starts happening is, the teachers now have it in their (minds) that they’re grading these minority children harder, they’re being harder on them with behaviors, because they’re racist. And so I found that they start treating, especially the white boys, harder.
“It just creates such a hostile environment for the students, for the staff. I mean, it is just so destructive. So destructive.”
In one instance, Cluff-Gleason said, the young son in a white blue-collar family who had to get up at 3:45 in the morning had his breakfast confiscated from a teacher for eating it too slowly.
In another case, Cluff-Gleason asked third-grade students for examples of things that come in waves, such as water. One boy answered “blood” – which she thought was brilliant, since blood does indeed pulse through the body; perhaps the boy is a budding doctor or scientist? Instead, the teacher in the room upbraided him and humiliated him for a “wrong” answer.
“I can guarantee you that any of the minority boys in that class would not have gotten the same response,” Cluff-Gleason says.
‘It gets to be really scary’
Having experienced racial hatred in public, she says “It gets to be really scary, because there’s very much this victim/oppressor narrative, and you don’t know who buys into it and who doesn’t.” The Deep Equity training she’s seen only encourages that divisive narrative, she said.
“It does. It absolutely drives it. All the schools across the country have these equity programs going on. The Deep Equity one that Shawnee Mission is using and that Chandler got rid of is probably the most dangerous that I’ve seen, because it really drives that oppressor/victim narrative. It very much teaches you to look at everything through a racial lens.
“It’s not just Shawnee Mission. It’s the whole county that’s having these problems.
“There are a lot of teachers that are starting these little nonaccredited private schools like I’m doing, because they just can’t do it anymore. Everything is so focused on this ideology that our children aren’t learning, our children aren’t growing. And if you don’t buy into the ideology, that makes it a very difficult place to work.”
Like Cluff-Gleason, Josiah Enyart also started a school, Freedom Learning Academy in Overland Park, after leaving SMSD for a number of reasons – one of the last straws, he said, being the DEI and Deep Equity curriculum.
“Once they brought in the Deep Equity program and the Second Step and SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) stuff – where it became a bigger focus to tell kids they were victims than to actually help them overcome their challenges and to get everyone to work together toward a common goal – it just became an absolute joke,” Enyart told The Lion.
The district’s DEI curricula, he says, “cause division and are just tools of a certain political and ideological spectrum. That’s not my job as a teacher. My job as a teacher is to teach reading, science, math, social studies, whatever the subject is I’m asked to teach.”
It’s not just what is taught, but also when, Enyart argues – which prompted him to not just leave SMSD as a teacher, but also as a parent.
“I wanted to have control as a parent on how I raised my kids. I wanted to have control over when I exposed them to certain things. They’re going to be exposed to stuff. Nobody in that arena of being against the Deep Equity, the DEI stuff, doesn’t want their kids exposed to things. They just don’t want them exposed to them at a certain time.
“I don’t need to talk about rape culture to my 5-year-old.
“The parents are the ones who know best when to expose their kids to the more, I would say, challenging social or emotional or spiritual things. I don’t think it’s the state’s or the school’s job to just say, ‘Nope, we’re going to do that now. We’re going to teach fourth-graders how to use a condom.’ No, sorry. That’s just unacceptable for me as a parent.”
No other option: ‘Pull their kids’
Certain things are promoted and certain things are discouraged in such curricula, Enyart says. “The things that are discouraged are the traditional religious views and the ideas that come from biblical principles or Christianity.”
The result is a climate in which it’s permissible to single out a particular demographic for derision and disparate treatment, he says. “And it’s Christian white people – even more specifically, males. If you were to try any of the stuff that’s been done to that particular group in the last year to any other group, it would obviously be racist and terrible.”
SMSD Chief Communications Officer David Smith told The Lion in an email that Sullivan’s description of the teaching climate in her op-ed “is different from what I have heard from most staff in the district, and different from my experience. … There was nothing in the training that displayed bias towards any group; in fact, the whole purpose of the training was to help participants to eliminate bias, and not to make broad assertions against whole groups of people.”
Of Sullivan, Smith told The Sentinel in a statement that, “If that person or any other individual is interested in filing a formal complaint concerning something they have experienced here in the district, our complaint process is available to them. It is self-evident that her perspective does not reflect the experience of the vast majority of our staff.”
It isn’t, however, so self-evident to Sullivan.
“The official SMSD response to my opinion piece in (The Lion) is anemic sleight-of-hand that does not address the issues,” Sullivan said in a statement. “The District says they foster a sense of ‘belonging,’ but those who reject the official ‘white oppressor’ narrative are ostracized and pressured to get on board. There is no ‘belonging’ for dissenting voices.
“The District says ‘the vast majority of our staff’ have a different experience than mine, but I am receiving numerous messages of loving support from staff, students, and parents across the district thanking me for speaking out. Most teachers are hesitant to go against the tide for fear of being ‘canceled.’ Like me, many others reject the sanctimonious lecturing and condescension inherent in the DEI message to people of color that only through a white person’s behavior can minorities find success. This divisive message of victimhood instills a horrible mindset in children, and it does immeasurable damage to our students.”
Cluff-Gleason makes no bones about what parents need to do about all this.
“Pull their kids. Get their kids out of it,” she said, shrugging that there’s no way to fix the district’s problem internally absent different school board election outcomes. “I would get your kids into private schools – good private schools.”
Enyart readily agrees.
“I’m in agreement there. I don’t think there’s another option.
“I know everyone wants to change from within and not hurt the system. But our kids are not supposed to be guinea pigs or test rats to make a system better. The system’s supposed to change for the kids. And it is not my responsibility as a parent to put my kid through that, just to try and fix the system. My responsibility is to raise my kids and to give them the best life I can, and the only way to do that right now is to not be in the Shawnee Mission district.”