February 22, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

Kansas City Star reporting on Shawnee Mission protest reveals bias

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The Kansas City Star exaggerated repeatedly in a story about a protest at Shawnee Mission North over comments a teacher made in a blog post for The Lion, a publication of the Herzog Foundation.

The bias began in the very first paragraph, stating: “A crowd of Shawnee Mission North High School students walked out of class Wednesday morning to protest teacher Caedran Sullivan, who has been making headlines lately for her far-right claims that the school is indoctrinating students and ‘white shaming.'”

The Star, however, offers no proof of Sullivan’s position as “far-right.”

Indeed, as the Sentinel previously reported, Sullivan made no mention of personal politics in her columns; rather, she cited specific examples of divisive actions in the district that are driving wedges between students and teachers and “creating a culture of contempt and disrespect.”

Moreover, a 2022 poll by SurveyUSA on behalf of Kansas Policy Institute, the parent company of The Sentinel, found widespread concern about content in schools among people who self-identify as conservative, moderate, and liberal, which refutes the Star’s “far-right” label.

According to the poll, when asked “How concerned or unconcerned are you that students in the public schools in your district may be learning things you personally would object to?” 74% of conservatives, 47% of moderates, and 33% of liberals were either “very” or “somewhat concerned.” 

The Star goes on to claim “The more than 60 students were met by counter-protesters feet away, a group of about a dozen encouraged by the Johnson County Republican Party to come out in support of the teacher and ‘fight this evil.'”  They make it sound as though the ten or so counter-protestors were uncomfortably close, but that’s not true.

A Sentinel reporter was at the protest and found the counter-protesters were a considerable distance away; some even sat quietly as shown in the adjacent photo.

The Star then quotes a student suggesting a few people — mostly sitting — several yards away is “frightening.”

“I don’t know why this is happening with adults being at the school right now,” senior Anylah Jones the Star reported said of the counter-protest. “Being an African American, it is very offensive. This should not be happening here, the most diverse school in the Shawnee Mission school district. I find it kind of scary, if I’m being honest. This is a step back.”

The Shawnee Mission district says it is teaching students and staff to be inclusive and respect everyone, but students’ efforts to silence Sullivan and comments from some staff members indicate otherwise — and reinforce Sullivan’s statements.

Additionally, the Sentinel spoke to two students, who will not be named as they are minors, who couldn’t point to any specific instances of racism by Sullivan.

“In her articles, she said she can’t be racist because she bought books about black people, and that doesn’t mean you’re not racist because you bought books about black people,” the student said.

However, Sullivan never said purchasing books made her “not racist” but rather that she used her own money to purchase books for her own use when the district refused to.

“I am deeply committed to offering fair representations of messages from opposing viewpoints and letting students develop their own opinions. I am not at all opposed to teaching opposing views or Black history,” she wrote in the Lion “In fact, after an SMSD workshop about building our own classroom libraries, I used my own money to buy books by mostly Black and minority authors after SMSD refused to purchase a single book that offered another view (see Bob Woodson’s Red, White, and Black).

“The official excuse was that they didn’t want to push politics. Yet, our district has purchased White Fragility and other books by Ibram Kendi, Michelle Obama, and Don Lemon, to name a few, and offers Black Lives Matter in the Classroom at district professional development days.”

When pressed for examples the students were unable to provide any — including any evidence of biased grading.

“It’s not solely about her being racist or anything,” another student said. “It’s about her just, like, not being respectful to students and their identities.”

Both said it was “not about the grades.”

“It’s school, we’re supposed to feel safe,” the second student said. “She makes students uncomfortable. Students have switched out of her class because she just continues misgendering them.”

“The Shawnee Mission district has expanded its diversity and equity work in recent years to train teachers on how to be more culturally aware and close achievement gaps,” the Star reported “Last school year marked the third year the district has required its employees to participate in that training.”

However, state assessment results show proficiency in reading and math has declined since 2015, and more students are below grade level.

Proficiency in math dropped from 42% to 40%, while the portion of students below grade level jumped from 17% to 26%.  Results are even worse in reading (English Language Arts); proficiency fell from 52% to 44%, and the number below grade level went from 16% to 24%.  High school results are particularly alarming, with only 29% proficient in math and just 38% in reading.

 

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