On Thursday, April 22, 2021, at 9:27 a.m, the literacy and speech coordinator for grades 6-12 in the Rockwood School District sent a lengthy email to English Language Arts teachers and principals to address concerns that had been raised by parents about lessons from a “Cultural Identity” unit, advising them to “pull” a controversial resource so “parents cannot see it.”
Parents Defending Education received photographs of the email and transcribed a clean version that is uploaded below. The whistleblowers who shared these documents with Parents Defending Education were particularly concerned about the explicit instructions to “pull the resource off Canvas so parents cannot see it.” (Canvas is the learning management system the district uses to manage assignments, grades etc.)
She laid out “recurring messages that appear in the emails” from parents and then made suggestions about how teachers should address these concerns and complaints. (All highlights were already on the documents when Parents Defending Education received them.)
Recurring Messages that appear in the emails:
— We are pushing an agenda
— We are teaching Critical Race Theory (I had to look this one up! There are a ton of definitions, so to know which they are honing in on specifically can be tough)
— We are making white kids feel bad about their privilege
— We are specifically talking about and using the word “White privilege”
— We are teaching kids to be social activists (and should be teaching cursive – I had to throw this one in for good measure, I thought all my 6-12 teachers would appreciate this additional expectation in your daily teachings)
— We are teaching microaggressions from whites (only) to blacks (only) and stereotyping
— We are teaching kids to be democratic thinkers and activists
What I am finding…
— When the word “privilege” is used in any way in a classroom or appears on a Canvas page that is visible to a parent, they automatically attach the word WHITE to it. Right now, DON’T use the word privilege.
— They believe that democratic is equal to Democrats. They do not understand that democratic means to be a part of a democracy. Right now, use the word CRITICAL THINKERS.
— They believe that the word activists means to go out and sit in cops faces and protest by setting cars on fire (yes, this is a bit of a leap, or maybe it isn’t). Right now, use the words “take a position.”
— Most of these lessons are being taught across the district and MULTIPLE classrooms and are a huge success! Kids are learning, talking about books, and overall things are good. I even went into classrooms where these specific lessons were being taught to see for myself.
She said she had gone through the remaining units “to see if there is anything that a parent might complain about.” She said she had sent emails to “those who would be teaching those lessons and offered changes/suggestions.”
She warned: “Realize I am only one set of eyes and that was a lot to cover in one weekend. Now that you have a better understanding of what parents are honing in on you can also be a second set of eyes. You know your kids and parents est in your classroom/building, so make adjustments as you go. This doesn’t mean throw out the lesson and find a new one. Just pull the resource off Canvas so parents cannot see it.“
She advised teachers:
“Keep teaching! Just don’t make everything visible on Canvas. This is not being deceitful. This is just doing what you have been doing for years. Prior to the pandemic you didn’t send everything home or have it available. You taught in your classroom and things were peachy keen. We are going old-school.”
She even suggested making two copies of lessons, saying:
You could Duplicate an entry/lesson in Canvas (making 2 copies) Pulish ONE for the whole class that is a LEAN version of the lesson. The “original” that has all the stuff on it, can be published and only assigned to specific students (IF NEEDED). OR you could specifically email those students a copy of what they need.
If you are in the 9th Cultural Identity unit – tread lightly! I would say that this one is probably getting the same responses as the Critical Literacy. Any topic that would deal with stereotypes, identity, intersectionality, culture, race, suggestions I sent to teachers yesterday for this unit).
If YOU come across something that I have not referenced that you feel might raise an eyebrow PLEASE share it with me!
Anything that “could” be picked apart I would suggest using this above approach. When I go through the upcoming lessons for this module – the only recent one that may cause an issue is the “By Any Other Name”. Again I wouldn’t throw it out, but you could just not give them access to the story. The anchor texts after that are pretty innocent. When you get to Power Imbalances – You might remove the two examples and just go over them in class (same as above)
On another assignment, she wrote:
Prep for Timed Write #2 – Under 1, it says poverty, racism, homophobia, domestic abuse” maybe take this out or change to poverty, abuse, class, etc.
Parents Defending Education reached out to the district for comment and its communications director provided the following statement:
The email that was sent to teachers encouraging them to hide or alter content visible to parents was not reviewed or approved by anyone before it was disseminated by an individual staff member. It does not reflect the mission, vision and values of the district and is counter to the goals set forth in our strategic plan, The Way Forward. The Rockwood School District encourages transparency and recognizes open communication is vital between parents and our staff. Parents are essential partners and allies in the education of our children. We welcome their feedback and authentic conversations with regard to all aspects of a student’s education and we stand behind our curriculum, which provides our students with well-rounded educational experiences so they are equipped for future success. — Mary LaPak, Executive Director of Communications, Rockwood School District
KSDK, April 30, 2021, “Rockwood forum turns heated during discussion of race and class curriculum”