Leanne Reynolds has held the position of “Head of School” at River Oaks Baptist School in Houston since 2012, according to her LinkedIn account. However, she has appeared to grow increasingly interested in the tenets of “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” and even Critical Race Theory since hiring Alison Park in 2020 as a diversity consultant. In 2019, Alison Park delivered three diversity presentations at the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) People of Color Conference, which Leanne Reynolds attended. Reynolds maintains close ties between River Oaks Baptist School (ROBS) and the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS).
NAIS People of Color Conference
Parents Defending Education communicated with parents and concerned community members of ROBS and discovered that the school has sent staff and teachers to the NAIS Annual Conference and NAIS People of Color Conference since at least 2006 with Leanne Reynolds carrying the tradition forward. PDE was told that “Leanne Reynolds goes every year” to the NAIS People of Color Conference and additionally attends the NAIS Diversity Leadership Institute.
On the NAIS People of Color Conference website, the organization promotes “equity seminars” that “allow participants to deepen their skills as advocates, educators, trainers, activists, and leaders working to build more equitable, just, and inclusive teaching and learning environments.” The organization also promotes “general workshops” that will cover topics related to “Social Justice,” “Racial and Ethnic Identities,” and “Anti-Racist Teaching.” The NAIS is currently accepting session proposals for the 2022 People of Color Conference. In order to speak at the event, “successful presenters” must demonstrate the following “attributes”:
- Openness to naming and addressing issues related to racism in all its forms as well as racial and cultural hegemony.
- Comfort with the discomfort associated with navigating and facilitating difficult conversations.
- Acknowledgement of and practice in interrogating their own privileges, implicit and explicit biases, and locating constraints in the context of race, racial identity, and intersectionality.
- An understanding of the mission and culture of the NAIS People of Color Conference.
- Willingness to advocate for racial and social justice in schools and society as ways to realize the highest goals of a multiracial, multiethnic, multicultural democracy.
PDE was told that Leanne Reynolds attended the People of Color Conference in 2019. The theme of this conference was a discussion about “1619. 2019. Before. Beyond. Amplifying Our Intelligence to Liberate, Co-create, and Thrive.” This topic was based on The New York Times‘ 1619 Project. The 1619 Project is an attempt by The New York Times to rewrite history to falsely claim that America was founded in 1619 to represent “when enslaved Africans first arrived in what would become the United States.”
The NAIS stated in a program promoting the conference: “We join in an international commemoration of the 400 years since the first British ship carrying captured Angolans arrived in North America, initiating enslavement of black African people.” PDE received information that Associate Head of School Todd Herauf, Head of Middle School Connor Cook, Head of Lower School Amy Womack, Head of Preschool Dawn Hanson, and Director of Education Technology and Innovation Brian Mahabee also attended the event with Leanne Reynolds.
The 2019 conference also featured affinity groups that segregated attendees based on race. The NAIS stated: “PoCC hosts Affinity Group sessions to provide an opportunity for sharing and exploring your life and experiences within spaces defined by membership in a specific racial or ethnic identity group.” Workshops at this event included “Intersectionality of Identifying as Asian and LGBTQ Educators,” “Are You Doing Your Work? Calling in Our Cisgender and Heterosexual PoC Allies,” “Centering Joy as a Revolutionary Act for Womxn, Femmes, and Non-Binary People of Color,” and “Decentering Whiteness: Creating a Sustainable Community-Based History Pedagogy.”
While at the event, Leanne Reynolds wrote multiple Facebook posts promoting racial equity. In what appears to be a reference to race, she asked: “Or, have you ever realized that you thought you understood until you realized that you don’t have the knowledge or personal experience to truly understand?” She then directly wrote about her experiences at the conference and how she has learned teachers can force the ideas of racial equity onto students:
I am in Seattle learning alongside thousands of colleagues about how educators can develop empathetic, culturally competent, and racially conscious graduates who will become the empathetic, culturally competent, and racially conscious leaders of tomorrow. We can’t do it without empathetic, culturally competent, a racially conscious faculty, staff, parents, and Trustees. I am mentally and emotionally exhausted after the first day and, I am mentally and emotionally exhilarated at the same time.
At the 2019 PoCC, the diversity consultant Alison Park delivered presentations and workshops titled “Practicing Anti-Racist Leadership: Foundations, Strategies, and Skills for Personal, Professional, and Institutional Growth,” “Hiring Leaders of Color: Easier Said Than Done,” and “The White Elephant in the Room: Navigating the Reality of Whiteness at PoCC”. Alison Park has her own consulting firm called “Blink Consulting.”
Alison Park Blink Consulting at ROBS
Breitbart reported on a September 2020 “Head of School” report that stated ROBS hired Alison Park as a “diversity consultant.” The report stated: “Plans are underway for our diversity consultant Alison Park (Blink Consulting) to begin working with our entire faculty and staff.” The idea was to provide teachers and staff with training on “cultural competence.” The phrase “cultural competence” is often used to describe a method of teaching that involves the race and ethnicity of students as part of the lessons taught in classrooms. Alison Park also has a public history of outright supporting Critical Race Theory (CRT).
On May 2, 2022, Alison Park wrote a blog for her website titled “A fantasy and a punch line, by design.” In this blog, she links to an article titled “Sex, Death, and Empire: The Roots of Violence Against Asian Women” and states that “this article is an example of why we need to teach critical race theory, explicitly and unapologetically.” She continues to explain:
We need to stop cowing to accusations of teaching critical race theory and actually teach and implement what we learn from critical race theory. And if you disagree, please read the article first. This is critical race theory: the recognition of the fact that racism is not just a matter of a few “bad people” (in fact, CRT isn’t interested in name-calling), it’s the system that created and maintains not just the construct of race, but inequality on the basis of race.
Alison Park ends her blog by stating: “We need to reclaim and own critical race theory. Lives depend on it.” Her Blink Consulting website has more than 120 schools listed as clients, including Georgetown Day School, The Berkeley School, and Montessori Family School.
In a February 2021 “Head of School” report, Alison Park is mentioned several times in reference to training staff and teachers. The report states: “All Preschool, Lower School, and Middle School Faculty and staff attended Alison Park’s Cultural Competency training.” The document also has a section titled “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice.” The document states that “we can’t teach what we don’t know, so administrators and faculty continue to learn about DEI issues through trainings.” The following training sessions are then provided:
- Ongoing work with Alison Park, our DEI consultant
- How to Be an Anti-Racist School
- ISAS Workshop on Microaggressions and Micro-affirmations
- Investing in a Culture of Well-Being for Students of Color
- Equity in the All-Virtual Admission Process
- Building an Inclusive Advancement Operation
- Creating an Inclusion Dashboard
- A ROBS Cultural Competency Working Group has been formed to guide the work of integrating DEI principles into all grades and subject matter over the next two years.
- Ad hoc committees are also being formed to advance other DEI priorities in areas such as the Biblical case for DEI and onboarding of new employees.
PDE was told that the school “fired” Alison Park in May 2021 after parents voiced their concerns. However, this was after Alison Park had already trained the school’s teachers. PDE received a presentation on “cultural competency” that Alison Park created for ROBS. The presentation appears to support the ideas of “political correctness” and “cancel culture” as forces of good. Alison Park also admits in the document that the phrase “social justice” is “often liberal or progressive” stances on social issues. The document additionally quotes known political activist and author Ibram X. Kendi as stating: “Essentially, to be anti-racist is to admit when we’re being racist.” On June 7, 2022, Ibram X. Kendi wrote an article complaining about his daughter playing with a “blue-eyed white doll” and how his daughter’s attachment to this doll could be a “‘smog’ of white superiority.”
PDE received an email that Associate Head of School Todd Herauf sent to teachers. He forwarded an email to teachers discussing topics from the presentation that Alison Park appeared to present earlier to the teachers. Alison Park mentions her preferred pronouns in her email signature as “she/her/hers” with a link that asks “why are Alison’s pronouns here?” The link goes to a website that has numerous perceived pronouns that people can use, including “co,” “ey,” “xie,” and “ze.” The website states:
Gender pronouns are words that an individual would like others to use when talking to or about them. The most commonly used pronouns are “he, him, his” and “she, her, hers.” People who are transgender, nonbinary, or gender nonconforming may choose to use pronouns that don’t conform to binary male/female gender categorizations, such as “they, them, theirs.”
Critical Race Theory at ROBS
Parents have remained concerned with the direction that ROBS has taken under the leadership of Leanne Reynolds with her goal to implement racial equity into the curriculum. As PDE previously reported, she wrote an article in 2020 detailing the trials that the school and parents went through due to COVID-19. In this article, Leanne Reynolds quickly moves to discussing how her role as a “white woman” led to “oppressing people of color.” She explains in her article:
I didn’t plan, for example, to learn so much about my implicit role as a white woman in the systems oppressing people of color as we explored diversity, equity, and inclusion as an educational priority. Or how demoralizing the term “colorblind” is, dismissing the rich beauty of our differences. The learning and unlearning that has stemmed from this initiative has been eye-opening for me personally and game-changing for us as educators.
In the article, she continues to explain that students are “protesters of the future” and that it is the school’s “responsibility to keep learning for them.” She then explains that school leaders “participated in the People of Color Conference last winter and the Diversity Leadership Institute this summer.” She also admits that the school is changing its curricula to achieve “cultural competence” and “racial literacy.” She states: “It is why we have engaged a curriculum consultant to work with our academic leaders on lessons in cultural competence and racial literacy. It is why we will always keep asking, how can we do things better?”
The Head of School had a link to the school’s “Roadmap 2020” document in her article. The document includes a section labeled “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.” The school’s roadmap states: “Only by ensuring equitable practices that value and support every student, parent, and employee can ROBS cultivate a community in which all can thrive.” The roadmap then lists “action steps” that guide the school to achieving “equity” and “diversity.” These action steps include changing the curricula to implement the ideas of equity and using race as a determining factor when hiring new faculty or accepting new students. The following are the school’s action steps:
- Actively work to recruit and retain families and faculty of color.
- Provide adult education and professional development in cultural competency.
- Promote teaching practices and curricula that reflect, engage, and enlighten all learners.
- Create programs that foster community connection and inclusivity, especially attentive to new school families and families of color.
- Formalize systems to restore connection with disenfranchised students and families.
- Examine ways to ease accessibility for families and employees who live in outlying areas.
Under Leanne Reynolds’ leadership, the school has posted several job descriptions online with specific ideological and immutable-characteristic requirements. A responsibility for the “lower school teacher,” “lower school assistant teacher,” and “middle school social studies teacher” is to “develop and practice ‘cultural competence’ in teaching and teamwork.” The school also has a position open titled “lower school Hogan fellow” specifically for a “person of color.” The school states: “Thanks to a generous grant, Hogan Teaching Fellowships provide one year of classroom experience and mentoring to talented young educators of color.” A qualification for this position is specifically “self-identification as a person of color.” The school provides the following description of the job:
The Lower School Fellow will teach under the supervision of a mentor teacher. Depending on the teaching assignments, the Fellow will co-plan lessons with the lead teacher. The Lower School Fellow also will have the opportunity to co-teach and teach classes from time to time. The Lower School Fellow will work in various classrooms over the year to provide exposure to different age groups, teaching styles, and subjects.
On May 22, 2019, Leanne Reynolds wrote a letter explaining that the school was already in the process of changing the curricula taught in classrooms to promote “inclusion.” She explained that “we are transitioning our curriculum coordinators into full-time instructional coaches in Preschool, Lower School, and Middle School.” She continued to explain:
They will work with teachers in the classroom to implement best practices in differentiated instruction. Our learning specialists—all of whom have advanced training in gifted and talented instruction as well as learning differences—will also enhance this strategic effort. Our focus on diversity and inclusion will be a natural progression of initiatives set in motion by Director of Community Initiatives Melanie Hightower. In classrooms, for example, we are adding more “windows and mirrors” books that allow all students to see a reflection of themselves (“mirrors” books) and gain insight into people whose lives are different from their own (“windows” books).
In another letter, Leanne Reynolds discussed “microaggressions.” She explained that she asked students: “Have you ever felt excluded at ROBS based on your race or ethnicity?” She added that “not one student said that they had ever felt excluded based on their race or ethnicity.” However, she then continued to explain that some students “said other students sometimes say things or do things that are unintentionally racist.” Leanne Reynolds described this as “microaggressions.” She then appeared to state that students do not want adults involved when this happens:
I’ve learned a lot about microaggressions over the last few months, and I know how hurtful they can be. Just as I was about to jump in, the students told me that the microaggressions they’ve experienced were not on purpose. The mean things are said by kids because they are kids. They said that unintentional unkindness occurs all the time but when it happens based on a child’s race or ethnicity, they felt that adults unnecessarily overreact.
She added that students often don’t speak up “when others hurt them” because “they know the adults in their lives will overreact.” She then said that students asked her the following questions: “They asked me why we don’t just serve as guides while the kids work things out themselves? Why don’t we help them understand why what was said was hurtful, and encourage the offender to own the mistake and apologize?”
Under Leanne Reynolds’ leadership, the school also appears to implement political ideology into Black History Month lessons taught to students. The school openly teaches preschool students to focus on the color of their skin during Black History Month. The school had preschool students “select a food that most closely resembled the color of his or her skin.” The school explains online:
Our Preschool students began February with a literacy lesson that helped them take a close look at the beautiful skin tones that God gave each of us. The Colors of Us, by Karen Katz, helped our students see their skin in a new way. After reading the text, each child in the class was encouraged to select a food that most closely resembled the color of his or her skin. One picked coffee and another golden honey, while a third chose delicious vanilla ice cream. Just imagine the conversation your family might have at dinner tonight if everyone thought about skin color in this way!
During Black History Month, “fourth graders listened to and discussed ‘The Hill We Climb,’ the poem written and recited by 22-year old Amanda Gorman, the first National Youth Poet Laureate, at the inauguration of President Joe Biden.” The school also had seventh and eighth graders focus on “racial inequities.” The school states: “Students were asked to think critically about the progress we made as a nation through the Civil Rights Movement, while considering the racial inequities that persist.”
Breitbart also previously reported that when parents expressed concerns about the school’s direction, Leanne Reynolds sent out an email to teachers referring to the parents as “distractions.” She even reportedly listed the names of concerned parents in the email to teachers.
In February 2021, Leanne Reynolds hosted a video that appeared to be for students where a girl recited a poem that appeared to attack “pretty white boys” and other youth for wearing “Make America Great Again” attire. This girl also appeared to target soldiers who want to protect the American flag. Leanne Reynolds then described the poem as “good trouble.” [Time Stamp: 25:10] Earlier in the video, the Head of School explains the positives of “good trouble” and how Jesus was a “troublemaker.” [Time Stamp: 18:00] The video also features children talking about the color of their skin and their family’s skin. [Time Stamp: 6:10]
PDE received images of several posts that Leanne Reynolds made on social media promoting racial equity events. On June 9, 2020, she promoted an event titled “Racism and Privilege: Having Honest Conversations with Our Children.” On June 4, 2020, she wrote on social media: “The feeling of helplessness is real. Educating ourselves, and dealing with the discomfort that will result is a step in the right direction.” The post then promoted a link labeled “21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge.” In another post that appeared to be the third day of this challenge, she stated:
A colleague sent a video to me. It was of a high school grad saying, “Really? I am learning about historical racism on social media? Why, in twelve years of school did I not learn about this?” This is how I felt when I went to the POCC conference in the fall. I majored in US history in college and there was so much I wasn’t taught.
On June 14, 2020, she stated in a post: “Great conversation tonight about how to talk to our children about race and privilege.” She then brought Jesus into the conversation by asking where he stands on this issue. On June 15, 2020, the Head of School stated that she participated in an event titled “Racism and Privilege: Having Healthy Conversations with Our Children.” She then advocates for teaching children about racial equity:
We (whites) are immune to what our friends of color are dealing with on a daily basis because of systemic racism and bias. We need to teach our kids to be racial upstanders (a word they know well from bully prevention education), and they can do that if we teach them to recognize racism and bias like they have been taught to recognize bullying.
PDE also received a document of social media posts from Leanne Reynolds and Tod Herauf. Leanne Reynolds’ social media posts often discussed topics including “white privilege,” “implicit bias,” and “racial literacy.” Tod Herauf’s posts contained references to “racial anxiety” and Alison Park.
Parents with children attending ROBS have also responded. In August 2021, concerned parents sent a letter to Leanne Reynolds and the ROBS Board of Trustees explaining: “ROBS leadership has lost its way.”
Parents have also documented 56 pages of examples of Critical Race Theory being taught to students and teachers through the curricula used in classrooms and through training provided to staff.
According to parents, ROBS has not been responsive to their concerns. PDE received information that many parents are taking their children out of ROBS and moving them to other schools. Donors who help provide ROBS with funding are also concerned. Several donors have made the decision to not provide the school with anymore funding due to the introduction of CRT themes into the curricula. ROBS has lost millions of dollars of funding as a result.