May 27, 2024

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Records request backs up SMSD teacher’s complaints about DEI

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The results of a Kansas Open Records Act request to the Shawnee Mission School District back up several of the claims made by Shawnee Mission North teacher Caedran Sullivan, an English teacher with the district for 15 years.

Sullivan, writing in The Lion, an online publication of the Herzog Foundation, says teachers, students, and parents are “being manipulated and intimidated by a divisive ‘woke’ ideology that is creating a culture of contempt and disrespect.”

Sullivan said SMSD is fostering a “toxic environment and requiring employees to attend Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) training and workshops centered around Critical Race Theory, including Black Lives Matter in the Classroom and Social Justice in the Classroom (using teachers’ ‘white privilege,’ ‘white supremacy’ and ‘de-colonizing our classrooms’ propaganda).

“There is repeated white shaming and a preoccupation with white people as the ‘oppressor,’ including staff field trips with a focus on ‘systemic racism.’ The white saviorism and virtue-signaling at DEI meetings is so condescending that many minorities and other staff members have stopped attending.”

Sullivan said teachers were informed at a staff meeting in April  (and on many other occasions) they should refer to students “by their preferred names and pronouns during the school day, but hide from the parents the fact that their minor children are transitioning at school. The district conceals the transgender policies from the public and will not release the DEI presentations we are compelled to watch.”

In a follow-up article, she also took issue with the district’s “refusal to put into writing the policies we are told we must follow in our schools. When we are being told at staff meetings to hide information from parents regarding their minor children transitioning at school, why won’t SMSD put that in writing? What is the policy regarding pronouns, and how does the district plan to implement a pronoun policy when at the same time telling us to hide the pronouns from parents?”

The Sentinel sent a records request to SMSD asking for the district’s written pronoun policy and SMSD Spokesman David Smith confirms the absence of a written pronoun policy.

SMSD does not have a specific Board of Education policy on pronoun usage. Board Policy … specifically states that we do not discriminate against students or staff based on gender identity, and affirms the protections provided to transgender individuals under Title IX.”

But Smith then referenced policy and guidance that adds confusion and seems contradictory.

First, he notes that “In accordance with Kansas law, SMSD has a Board of Education policy regarding bullying conduct.”

 That policy prohibits “bullying in any form either by any student, staff member, or parent towards a student or by a student, staff member, or parent towards a staff member on or while using school property, in a school vehicle or at a school-sponsored activity or event.” It also states, “Staff members who bully others in violation of this policy may be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including suspension and/or termination. If appropriate, staff members who violate the bullying prohibition shall be reported to local law enforcement.”

Declining to use pronouns could raise an allegation of bullying, but if so, the district’s treatment of Sullivan at least reflects the selective application of the bullying policy.  She says at least one teacher has called her a Nazi and a fascist, but no action is taken for that flavor of bullying.

Smith also provided a document on school letterhead he described as “guidance,” entitled “Transgender Practices & FAQ.” While Smith said in his email this document was “guidance,” the language appears to be in the form of requirements.

For example, while the document says, “The SMSD Board of Education has not adopted a transgender-specific policy,” at the same time, it gives instructions for changing a student’s “nickname” in the district’s “Skyward Student Management System,” and how to print out a “list of preferred names.”

Moreover, it does not give teachers the option to use a student’s legal name or pronouns consistent with biological sex: “All students have the right to be addressed by the name and pronouns that correspond to the gender identity they assert at school. School staff and peers are expected to respect a student’s name and pronouns once they have been made aware.” [Emphasis added.]

Additionally, while the document suggests that the “building administrator” will work “to engage and include the family” after a student asks for a name or pronoun change, it does not say the family will be informed.

“The building administrator, in consultation first with the student, will be responsible for ensuring that the student’s request is honored while working to engage and include the family,” the policy reads.

The matter is further confounded by the fact that the SMSD Board of Education has not voted on the “guidance” which raises the question of whether the district can take disciplinary action over something that is not official “policy.”

Records request backs up statements on DEI

In a further article, Sullivan noted that the district refuses to release the Corwin “Deep Equity” training and curriculum — for which SMSD spent more than $400,000, citing “copyright concerns.”

The Sentinel’s KORA request also asked for training materials and curricula in use by SMSD as part of the “Deep Equity” or any other DEIB training for staff/teachers and the written SMSD policy on abusive language between staff members.

Smith also confirmed the district would not release the DEI materials, citing “copyright restrictions.”


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