In September 2020, Talbot Hills Elementary School in Renton School District, outside Seattle, Wash., promoted a “Trailblazers” program “open only to “Black and Brown Youths,” with the advertising also noting in bold letters: “Students will receive cash stipends!!!”
A community member reported to Parents Defending Education: “My daughter wanted to join because she heard kids, who were allowed in, talking about how they get paid by the group to go.”
Theresa Hardy, founder and chief executive officer of BRAVE, Building Resilience Awareness & Variations of Excellence, responded to the parent’s questions about her daughter being unable to enroll, stating, “Thank you for completing the contact form and thanks for your interest in the BRAVE Trailblazers program. At this time the BRAVE Trailblazers program funding through Best Starts for Kids- Trauma-Informed Restorative Practices is designated for Black and Brown youth.”
The website for the organization is www.braveyoungpeople.org.
In contrast with the race requirements for enrollment in the Trailblazers program, the “Principal’s Message,” currently on the Talbot Hill Elementary website says, “Our mission is to provide a safe, enriching learning environment where ALL students grow.”
According to documents received by Parents Defending Education, John Schmitz, chief of elementary schools in Renton School District, was questioned about the race-based enrollment for the program and responded, “I may see this a little differently from you. I see this as a principal who found a community opportunity that could be helpful for some Talbot Hill students, so she shared it. Like most opportunities, they’re developed by caring people to meet the needs of some people, but not necessarily everyone. In the case of the Trailblazers, they are attempting to address concerning trends about the experiences of Black children and children of color, so they are offering an opportunity for support. I would imagine that they, like you and me, hope that one day that support is no longer necessary.”
Schmitz then offered parenting advice: “I’m sure you’ve come across plenty of articles on the Internet about racism and supporting children in developing their understanding, but here’s one that may be helpful as you support your own child and talk with her about how she can be a force for a better society:
The non-discrimination policy statement on the school district’s website states, “Renton School District does not discriminate in any programs or activities on the basis of sex, race, creed, religion, color, national origin, age, veteran or military status, sexual orientation, gender expression or identity, disability, or the use of a trained dog guide or service animal and provides equal access to the Boy Scouts and other designated youth groups.”
According to the whistleblower, unlike many programs that were promoted through the school’s Peachjar portal for school programs, the principal, Holly Nielsen, personally promoted Trailblazers for “students of color.”
In the Fall 2020 school newsletter, the principal promoted the program, stating:
Our partnership with Trailblazers is continuing—Trailblazers is an organization that focuses on growing a student’s social justice and self-advocacy skills! This program is for our students of color in 4th and 5th grade—check out the informational flier for more details . This will be a great opportunity to learn and grow. If you are interested, there is a short application.Trailblazers is also offering Wrap Around Support for families! More information on these supports and services can be found here ! Check it out!
Nielsen, Schmitz and Hardy did not return requests for comments from Parents Defending Education.