Step by step, this is how white Missouri parents wiped out 3 diversity programs

In early 2021, some parents started a Facebook group called Concerned Parents of Rockwood School District, and as COVID-19 cases began to decline, the group's criticism shifted to classroom instruction and teachers.

White parents in Missouri successfully eliminated three diversity-related initiatives, using social media to argue against the programs’ attention to racial and equality issues.

According to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Rockwood School Board voted on Oct. 6, 2022, to eliminate SistaKeeper Social and Emotional Learning Circles, The L.O.V.E. Project, and a mentoring program led by for-profit motivational speaker Tony Thompson.

Since 2017, Thompson has run mentoring sessions and assemblies for middle and high school students, serving around 70 students last year.

Rockwood School District
Three diversity-related initiatives have been removed from Missouri’s Rockwood School District following complaints from several white parents. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

The L.O.V.E. Project, which served around 50 students last year with more to come, hosted 20 one-hour sessions at each of the four district high schools.

SistaKeeper Social and Emotional Learning Circles, which assisted Rockwood middle school girls since 2009 with developing self-confidence and identity, held 12 one-hour sessions at each of six middle schools. Last year, it served roughly 65 pupils.

The programs primarily served Black students — many of whom were from St. Louis and chose to bus to one of the highest-rated and wealthiest districts in the area — and totaled $86,100 this academic year.

Rockwood, which has roughly 20,000 students, participated heavily in the voluntary desegregation program for the area mandated by a court in 1983. Black and white populations peaked at approximately 14 and 82 percent, respectively, in 1999, when the program was at its height. However, both percentages have declined as the district’s diversity among other races and ethnicities has increased.

The most recent disputes are related to the district’s choice to begin virtual instruction in the fall of 2020. In early 2021, some parents started a Facebook group called Concerned Parents of Rockwood School District, and as COVID-19 cases began to decline, the group’s criticism shifted to classrooms and teachers.

Parents started questioning classroom instruction and educational initiatives that dealt with diversity-related issues. They leveled complaints against board members, managers, and program providers by sending emails to the administration, requesting public records, creating private Facebook groups, and posting in anonymous blogs.

“As a parent, my first and most important job is to protect MY children and what is in their best interests,” Facebook group moderator Jennifer Spencer wrote in an email to administrators, according to the Post-Dispatch. “And being told that they are racists, or white supremacists, is not true, and is most definitely not in their best interests. I will not allow anyone to make them feel guilt or shame for the color of their skin, which we should know is NEVER OKAY.”

In March, Spencer sent then-Superintendent Mark Miles another email in which she complained about Brittany Hogan, the district’s former diversity director.

Parents complained about Hogan’s tweets and books the school had chosen to read, like “Stamped,” which examines the history of racism in America. Some of the emails and blog posts said Rockwood sought to conceal the teaching of critical race theory (CRT), an academic system centered on the notion that racism is a systemic social construct.

“I’m for diversity and inclusion 100%, which I believe Rockwood does quite well,” parent Amy Krebs told Miles in an email, The Post-Dispatch reported. “It’s just the BLM/Critical Race Theory Marxist/Communistic ideologies that frighten myself and many other parents.”

People within the private Concerned Parents of Rockwood group identified Terry Harris, director of Rockwood Student Services, as a target that same month. A commenter shared his image and an anonymous text message from an alleged employee that read Harris “has to be the one that goes first.”

Parents distributed a link to his Twitter account, and others publicly urged him to step down.

Miles made his retirement announcement in April, and Hogan also resigned from her position last spring.

Harris, who handled the empowerment programs, left his position last month due to mounting pressure, making him the third administrator to withdraw since 2021.

A commenter in the Concerned Parents group claimed that the now-slashed initiatives violated federal civil rights laws by excluding white students.

“Are these vendors really serving our students, or are there other alternative motives?” said parent Jan Sprunger, The Post-Dispatch reported. “Are these examples for our children? Thank you again to the board members who are looking out for our students and making wise decisions on how to better use our tax dollars.”

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