Rockwood teachers ask for harassment protection over racial inclusion curriculum

Missouri

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – Teachers in the Rockwood School District in St. Louis County, one of the largest districts in Missouri, are concerned about their safety after continued threats regarding the district’s move toward “equity and inclusion” education programs. Critics say the programs focus on systemic racism where it may not exist.

The Rockwood National Education Association (RNEA) is calling on the school board and superintendent to take a stand. Issues have been simmering in the district for months. The Rockwood School Board is expected to issue a statement in support of “equity and inclusion” education at its next meeting.

People who wish to attend will have to pass through a metal detector. A controversy over Thin Blue Line flags supporting police, first responders, and military first led to the use of a metal detector at a board meeting in March. Flag emblems were included on caps and jerseys for the Eureka High School baseball team.

The district received threatening messages after the superintendent said the flags had to go, according to a district spokeswoman. That led to added security and the use of a wand metal detector at board meetings.

About two weeks ago, the district came under fire after an e-mail to teachers from a district education coordinator was leaked to parents on social media. The e-mail advised teachers in part, to address parents’ complaints about lessons on equity and inclusion by pulling parts of the lessons that were drawing complaints from the online learning portal so parents couldn’t see them.

The district issued a letter to parents disavowing the e-mail, saying it was in no way authorized by the district.

“Asking teachers to conceal anything from parents,” ran afoul of the district’s mission and values, Assistant Superintendent Shelley Willott said in the letter.

Missouri State Senator Andrew Koenig, who represents part of the district, attended a forum over issues with Rockwood Schools over the weekend. More than 200 people were there, he said. Nearly all of them were white and at odds with district leadership. A number of people saw the curriculum “equity and inclusion” curriculum as reinforcing racial differences and labeling white kids as “oppressors,” he said.

“There’s a lot of distrust between the parents and the faculty or the district itself…I do have some concerns that we’re going down a path of separating kids based on race. It’s almost like teaching racism,” Senator Koenig said.

Koenig has sponsored Senate Bill 352, which would allow parents to formally object to instructional materials and methods and have their child exempted from the instruction. Parents could be awarded $1,500 or the total amount of their contributions to local property taxes in the preceding year, whichever is greater, if the school district fails to comply.

Superintendent Dr. Mark Miles, who is leaving the district after just two years, has written RNEA supporting them and the curriculum so that “all students feel a sense of belonging … and are equipped to learn and grow.”

The RNEA has now sent a letter asking district leaders to denounce the continued threats and ask for civility from parents “without recourse to speech that risks staff members’ health, safety, and even lives.”

“People need to show up to school board meetings if they have concerns,” Senator Koenig said. “No one should ever use violence in any way or threaten violence…I think the district should be fully transparent with the parents. Honestly, maybe there’s no issue at all and parents could see there is no issue, but right now it doesn’t look good.”

The school board meets Thursday, May 6, at 7 p.m.

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