Racial equity training causing controversy for local school district parents

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FISHERS, Ind. — Training on race equity for staff at one local school system has split a local community with thousands joining Facebook groups supporting one side or the other.

The current frustration is a two-day training happening this week for Hamilton Southeastern Schools staff. The training is “Interrupting Racism for Children” and is instructed by Child Advocates, a local group “fighting for equality and equity for all children in the community and standing up for children’s rights,” according to the group’s website.

Some parents see issues with these trainings though, most commonly associating the training with Critical Race Theory. Critical Race Theory, or CRT, has been a buzzword in schools across the country recently.

“I think this sort of training in itself is divisive at a time when we all need to come together,” said Annette Fulton, a Fishers High School parent.

Fulton said she is worried about what these teachers are being taught leaking to the students. But what exactly are teachers being taught?

According to the Child Advocates website, “Interrupting Racism for Children (IRFC) educates and moves individuals to action to stop racism in its tracks, creating a future where children thrive and race does not predict their life outcomes”

More specifically, a FAQ page on the website lists what people are taught in the two-day IRFC training.

  • The function and relationship between poverty and racism.  
  • Disempowerment of ourselves and those we serve.  
  • Develop a shared understanding of the purpose of racism.  
  • Understanding the lasting impact of historical policies and laws.  
  • Awareness of how racism adversely affects everyone.  
  • Understanding the importance of our roles as gatekeepers.  
  • How we begin to intentionally create communities where children’s outcomes are not predictable based on race, but where they thrive and not just survive.

Fulton has a different perspective on the training, she acknowledged she does not know specifics of the training but has done research on “what other trainings people have done across the country.”

“It divides the kids by race and there are a group of oppressors, which are your white males and there’s a group of oppressed which is everybody else and it generates a victim mentality at a time when we all need to come together,” she said.

FOX59 asked Child Advocates if this ideology is involved in any of their teachings and they offered this statement, “The workshops bring people together to discuss race and racism with respect and humanity. We create a safe space, without shame or blame, where we can learn from our history, examine the impact of systemic racism in our nation today, and move forward, together, to help ensure that every child has an equal opportunity to succeed. The workshops honor all children’s life experiences with inclusive stories that reflect children of every race and ethnicity.”

Jane Hedeen has two children in HSE, she said she sees no problem with teachers participating in these trainings. She says it gives teachers the best tools to be able to address sensitive racial topics with students.

“For example, a student brings up race or BLM, I think a teacher has to be able to address that. Not imposing his or their opinions about it but be able to have a discussion that is meaningful with students,” Hedeen said.

Hedeen added she doesn’t see these trainings as “divisive.”

”These trainings are not teaching teachers how to shame children, they’re teaching teachers how to frame their discussions of issues of race and gender identity in a way that recognizes everyone’s humanity,” Hedeen said.

When asked about an interview, the HSE Director of School and Community Relations Emily Pace Abbotts declined. She did send a statement.

In part, the statement said, “As a district, we believe that professional development training can help our teachers and staff prepare all of our students for a life of academic success. We also believe that each student deserves a school where educators teach inclusively and dismantle barriers that keep students from being their authentic selves.”

Abbotts also said these trainings are nothing new.

“Since 2015, our district has offered this training to hundreds of our administrative and teaching professionals. In fact, this most recent series of trainings has garnered overwhelming interest, which has led to a waiting list,” the statement said.

Abbotts also wanted to make it clear these trainings are not mandatory for staff and are done by organizations across the area.

In a statement, Child Advocates CEO Cindy Booth said, “Many different types of organizations and individuals have participated in the two-day workshops including the Indy Chamber, the Supreme Court’s Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative Program, courts around the state, Bar Associations, community service organizations, foundations, educators, and businesses.” 

Another issue Fulton takes with the training is taking the focus away from catching students back up after a difficult pandemic school year.

So it seems like instead of focusing on something as controversial as this sort of anti-racism training, you would be looking to reestablish the academic excellence that HSE schools have been known for in the past,” she said.

Fulton said she wants to see teachers in workshops focusing on recovering learning loss.

“It seems like you would want to devote training time to doing workshops with teachers on how to get your kids, on how to get them caught up again,” Fulton said.

Over email, I asked Abbotts what is being done to get students caught back up.

“Each of our elementary schools held spring remediation for identified students. These students were served in small groups in reading and math. In addition, each of our elementary schools and intermediate schools are running Summer Jump remediation programs to ensure students who may have fallen behind are ready to start the new school year. Again, these students were identified based on need to help prepare them as they enter the next grade level,” Abbotts said.

As for what other workshops staff participate in, here is what Abbotts had to say.

“Also, many of our teachers attend various educational conferences and professional development events during their summer break – so they can gain new ideas to implement in the classroom.”

Hedeen said she feels like HSES has plenty of activities to help students over the summer. 

“Some ideas that parents can do with their children daily to get them caught back up, to keep them on track,” she said.

Fulton is a member of the Facebook group Fishers One, described as “a grassroots, community-based organization dedicated to keeping people informed while restoring academic excellence in our schools, holding elected officials accountable, maintaining Fishers as a great place to live, and cultivating the next generation of leaders.”

Fishers One recently sent out a press release asking HSE Superintendent Dr. Yvonne Stokes to cancel the training. Here is the full release.

Here are the full statements sent to FOX59 in response to the release by HSE and Child Advocates.

“Yes, we are offering a voluntary “Interrupting Racism” training for staff (this includes but not limited to: bus drivers, food service workers, instructional assistants, teachers, administrators, etc.) employed by the district. The training is being paid for through a grant for staff.

As a district, we believe that professional development trainings can help our teachers and staff prepare all of our students for a life of academic success. We also believe that each student deserves a school where educators teach inclusively and dismantle barriers that keep students from being their authentic selves.

Since 2015, our district has offered this training to hundreds of our administrative and teaching professionals. In fact, this most recent series of trainings has garnered overwhelming interest, which has led to a waiting list.” 

Emily Pace Abbotts, Director Of School And Community Relations

Race Equity Program, “Interrupting Racism for Children”

We are concerned and dismayed that there is a group inciting fear and sensationalism about our award-winning race equity work which has been bringing our community together for more than a decade, helping us understand each other better. We are all committed to building a brighter future for every child.

Children are at the heart of our Interrupting Racism for Children workshops. Our goal is to help create a community where all children thrive, where race will never be a predictor of a child’s life outcomes, and where every child is treated equally and equitably.

The workshops bring people together to discuss race and racism with respect and humanity. We create a safe space, without shame or blame, where we can learn from our history, examine the impact of systemic racism in our nation today, and move forward, together, to help ensure that every child has an equal opportunity to succeed. The workshops honor all children’s life experiences with inclusive stories that reflect children of every race and ethnicity.

We don’t teach, support, or believe any of the ideas outlined in the Fishers One press release. We invite the community to take our workshops to learn more about the unifying work that we do. We conduct surveys of workshop attendees, and they are overwhelmingly positive, year after year.

Cindy Booth, Child Advocates CEO

HISTORY OF WORKSHOP CREATION

Child Advocates started our race equity training in 2009 to help address the disproportionality of black and brown children in the child welfare system, documented in several national studies and based, in part, on racial biases. Marion County’s Juvenile Court created a committee to address this disproportionality as part of a Model Courts program and we were the CASA, the court-appointed special advocate for children for Marion County. Child Advocates and partners sponsored the workshops to train child welfare staff and the courts, including judges in the juvenile justice system, to recognize and confront racism that impacts children.

Over the years, Child Advocates expanded the race equity workshops to reach and teach the whole community. Many different types of organizations and individuals have participated in the two-day workshops including the Indy Chamber, the Supreme Court’s Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative Program, courts around the state, Bar Associations, community service organizations, foundations, educators, and businesses. Area foundations have also provided funding for the workshops.

Cindy Booth, Child Advocates CEO

BACKGROUND INFORMATION AND TESTIMONIALS:

CHILD ADVOCATES DIVERSITY AWARDS:

-2019: Child Advocates wins the Leadership in Diversity Award at the 18th Annual Mayor’s Celebration of Diversity Award Luncheon. The award honors Child Advocates for its commitment to diversity by working with, understanding, and honoring the diversity of the children it serves and their families through its race equity programming. It also honored Child Advocate’s diverse staff, including in its’ leadership. The staffing, today, more proportionately represents the Marion County children in the child welfare system. Overall, Child Advocates won for hiring practices, recruitment, training, outreach, and everyday actions on behalf of those it serves.

-2010 and 2019: Child Advocates wins National GAL/CASA Diversity Award for its diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. The award honors Child Advocates diverse staff, including leadership that best represents the children it serves. The award also honored Child Advocates’ commitment to race equity for children with its “Interrupting Racism for Children” workshops.

Cindy Booth, Child Advocates CEO

IRFC WORKSHOPS TESTIMONIALS:

“Thank you so much for this. I have never experienced a conversation about racism that both acknowledged the truth of everyone’s experience and also stayed focused on our common purpose and the goal of solidarity. It was both refreshing and informative.” – University educator

“I feel that I’m better able to speak to the university students in my classes about individual responsibility and accountability around racism without resulting to shaming language. And I can better model how to talk about racism as a white person with more honesty and integrity.” – Educator

“What a rich two days of training with talented and wise presenters and co-learners. Thank you all. This was very worthwhile. We have our work cut out for us.” – Foundation Board Member

“I did not realize the power I have in contributing to the continuation of systemic involvement with the juvenile justice system/prison system. As a result, we are changing one of our policies to make sure there is a better check and balances system in place to prevent the misuse of power.” –County Government

“This was transformative. Thank you.” – A Circuit Court Judge

“This was a truly amazing training and hands down one of the best trainings I have been to. It increased my confidence in having conversations around racism.”– Government Employee

“This has been my favorite training. Everyone who was speaking was knowledgeable, tactful, direct. Being vulnerable is hard but does bring change. As a white woman, I did feel vulnerable talking about sensitive issues. It helped me know that being direct is okay. Talking about racism is okay and we all should. We are living in a dated, broken system and it is okay to talk about that.” – Social Service Employee

“As an educator, I can truly say “Interrupting Racism for Our Children” is one of the most prolific, engaging workshops. Individuals who sincerely desire to learn about the history of racism… should register immediately and expect to be changed forever.” – Area School District leader

Cindy Booth, Child Advocates CEO

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