The Douglas County School Board predicted back in March that an equity policy the board was considering would upset some parents. But perhaps board directors underestimated just how unhappy some people would be.
“That (equity) work has been going for some time, but certainly not at the level of the concern you have expressed tonight. Some of the things you stated trouble me, I’ll be honest,” said board President David Ray at a May 25 meeting after 30 parents spoke during public comments, mostly to criticize the board and district staff for endorsing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.
For two hours, community members condemned the district’s new equity policy and its hiring of a firm to provide teachers with DEI training. As a result, four separate speakers told the board that they were withdrawing their children, a total of nine students, from the district that serves more than 67,000 students.
“You’re creating more of a divisive environment by pushing families like mine out of the school system because you are teaching children to feel bad or have preferential treatment based only on the color of their skin,” said parent Lora Wolfe. “I do not want my kids to be part of this nonsensical experiment.”
Following years of repeated instances of racism and racial insensitivity in DCSD, an Equity Advisory Council drafted the policy last year to guide the district in creating a more welcoming environment for racial, ethnic, gender and sexual minorities, both students and staff. The board unanimously passed the policy on second reading on March 23.
Then, in April, the district finalized a contract with Gemini Group, LLC for staff DEI training. Gemini provided a keynote address and community session at a workshop on April 19.
The equity policy itself frustrated some Douglas County parents, but the Gemini Group was the last straw for some. The policy and Gemini’s hiring, parents argued, are evidence that the district is teaching students critical race theory (CRT), an academic framework that teaches race is socially constructed. Recent conservative pushback to the idea has led Republican state lawmakers across the U.S. to introduce bills banning CRT in public schools.
Superintendent Corey Wise defended that the district isn’t teaching CRT. “We are aligned with the Colorado academic standards. Critical race theory is not in the Colorado academic standards for the core curriculum,” Wise said at the May 25 meeting, prior to the public comments.
Some parents weren’t buying it, though. “Within one week of CRT teaching, I watched my son become resentful and angry about the assumptions made about him because he happens to be white and male. Diversity will not work this way,” said Rachel Kopfle. Kopfle spoke on behalf of a local chapter of No Left Turn in Education, a right-wing organization that is “committed to rooting out subversive indoctrination,” Kopfle said. She didn’t specify which school district her son attended.
Kopfle added that dangerous ideologies “seep into the district with nice sounding terms: ‘diversity, equity, inclusion, anti-racism, social justice.’”
Not every public commenter agreed with the majority. Jeff Culver, a history teacher at Valor Christian High School who has children in DCSD, said, “A district that endorses this kind of policy that, as a Christian, as a disciple of Jesus, is a district I want my children to attend.”
Surabhi Mehrotra, another parent, said, “an equity policy can at least set a framework to support equal opportunity for all and teach our kids empathy, compassion and human dignity.”
Anti-equity speakers were welcomed by rounds of applause from the in-person audience, while equity proponents were met by scolding murmurs. At one point, Ray asked the audience to have decorum and be respectful of every speaker.
The meeting ended with little resolution. Ray told the speakers they gave him and his fellow directors a lot to think about. Kopfle reminded the audience during her public comments that board directors are up for election in November, suggesting that the issue will fuel consternation for months to come.