Newburyport Public Schools paid $147,790 to outside consultants and organizations, including ADL, for “cultural” trainings that raise concerns with parents and taxpayers


*This report has been updated to include contracts obtained via a public records request.

Several parents of Newburyport Public Schools in Massachusetts’ north shore have reached out to Parents Defending Education with concerns about school programming, suggested resources and outside consultants. They contend that, despite repeated denials by school officials, these courses and materials are riddled with the principles and tenets of critical race theory.

In response to a public records request filed on Oct. 26, 2021, by Parents Defending Education, we were able to identify $147,790 in contracts that school district officials have signed over the past three years since 2019 with outside consultants and companies.

November 2019: ADL

On Nov. 3, 2019, Newburyport Public Schools paid an invoice to the Anti-Defamation League for a total cost of $16,000 for “Peer to Peer Training” delivered on seven dates: Sept. 16, 2019, Sept. 24, 2019, Oct. 15, 2019, Oct. 29, 2019, Oct. 30, 2019, Nov. 14, 2019, and Nov. 15, 2019. This is a major red flag to parents and taxpayers because of how deeply steeped in critical race and gender theory the ADL has become.

The ADL “Peer Leadership Program,” describes itself, in part this way:  

The Peer Training Program for Middle and High School Students provides diverse groups of students in grades 7-12 with the opportunity to facilitate and sustain positive social change in their schools.  Each group of students is trained to lead developmentally appropriate activities and discussions with their peers on bias-related issues such as bullying and cyberbullying. Participants also develop safe and practical prevention and response strategies to these and other prejudicial behaviors, including the ways in which young people can become allies for their peers who are targeted.  

As with most ADL initiatives, it sounds good on its face but the demonstrable reality is that the ADL’s programming for youth are steeped in critical race theory, critical gender theory and critical social justice.

The district has been very public about its plans to become a “No Place for Hate” district, a program also run by the ADL. Parents all over the country are raising concerns about the program because of how ideological, political and divisive it is. In the meantime, until they apply and get the “No Place for Hate” designation, also with taxpayer dollars, the schools put effort into publicizing the “No Port for Hate” initiative.

June 2020: “Cultural Competency Initiatives”

In June 2020, the school district had a school committee business meeting that included an overview of the district’s “Cultural Competency Initiatives.” The entire document is available below—the cultural competency content begins on page 14.

There was a new focus on “diversity, tolerance, equity, race, and cultural competence .”

July 2020

Culture 7 Company

On July 7, 2020, Newburyport Public Schools signed an agreement with to develop “Cultural Competence: Awareness, Attitude, Knowledge, Skills, and Practices.” Total cost $77,300.

Essential Partners

On July 31, 2020, Newburyport Public Schools signed its first agreement ($10,640) with with Essential Partners for “consulting services,” adding new contracts on Jan. 14, 2021 ($7,500), Feb. 25, 2021 ($12,500) and May 12, 2021 ($2,100) for a total cost of $32,740.

October 2020

On Oct. 9, 2020, Superintendent Sean Gallagher sent an email to colleagues, identifying the school district’s work with Essential Partners and Culture 7 Coaching owner Michael Eatman.

In the email, the superintendent said about Eatman: “Michael uses a framework called Cultural Competency to build organizational capacity for addressing issues of inequity and intentionally creating a culture of belonging.”

He described the work as including:

  • “Administrative Leadership Team Professional Development” with two workshops already completed and work with Eatman, “using Coaching for Equity as an anchor text.” The work includes the development by a staffer, Emily Russin, of a “resource library” for administrators and staff to “develop curricula that address bias, prejudice, racism, and discrimination.”
  • “Building-based professional development,” following progress by the “Admin Team,” would be the “next step in the process.” Essential Partners will “continue” to work with Newburyport High School students and staff to “develop skills to facilitate a curriculum and culture that foster student voice.” A “new class of students” was working with the consultant and a staffer for “facilitator training.” Teachers who had participated in a “summer intensive course” were “now rolling out curricula in their courses.” One staffer who had participated in a “summer long internship” with Essential Partners was working to “build internal train-the-trainer capacity.” A “Parent-Teacher Advisory Group” that had begun in 2020 would “ensure” that curriculum resources and units would “embrace children from diverse identities.”
  • “Curriculum and Student programs” included a plan in which Newburyport High School “continues to work with ADL to develop year two of the peer leader program.”

Fall 2021

Taxpayers in Newburyport appear to be currently funding an evening course, “Writing Out Racism,” described as a “unit” for Newburyport High School “Writing at Night,” taught by two district teachers. The syllabus is below.

Parents have also expressed serious concerns over the Newburyport High School library website—specifically, the content found under the “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” tab. One page under the tab recommends “actions to take” that are highly political and seem misplaced on a high school library website.

The second tab provides a list of recommended books.

The third tab links to “Anti-racism resources.” This is a document we have seen on other school districts’ websites.

Public records request response

Other contracts

The school district has signed contracts with outside consultants that aren’t directly related to “diversity, equity and inclusion” work but still raise concerns with parents about the alleged misappropriation of taxpayer dollars.

On Jan. 25, 2019, Newburyport Public Schools paid an invoice to Facing History and Ourselves Inc., based in Brookline, Massachusetts, for a total cost of $750 for school district staffers to attend a lesson on “Democracy & Risk: Holocaust and Human Behavior,” on Jan. 15, 2019, and Jan. 16, 2019, at Babson College.

On June 26, 2019, Newburyport Public Schools signed an agreement with Billie Donegan, owner of Keystone Educational Services, based in Woodland Park, Colorado, for “on-site coaching,” “on-line collaboration for skills-based learning, teaching, & assessment,” for a total cost of $21,000.

Restricting Parents

On December 13, 2021, a subcommittee of the district’s School Committee discussed changing the policy of public comments in meetings. The subcommittee discussed potential edits to the policy “to reduce length of disclaimer read at each meeting and ask that commenters stick to items on the
agenda,” according to the subcommittee’s meeting minutes published by the school district. The meeting minutes continued to explain that “topics not on the agenda can be sent via email to the School Committee.” The move appeared to be an attempt to limit what concerned parents could discuss at future School Committee meetings.

On December 20, 2021, the full School Committee voted to approve the revised “disclaimer” with the new phrase that commenters must stick to items “on the agenda.” A member of the School Committee said that the revised phrasing would be: “Speakers may offer objective criticism and/or ideas for school operations and programs on the agenda as it concerns them.” (Time Stamp: 21:00) The School Committee originally intended for the discussion of the revised disclaimer to be a “first read” but then changed the rules to go ahead and vote in favor of the changes.