Political group’s video on race, gender issues in local schools triggers debate

Credit: FILE

Credit: FILE

Edited ‘undercover’ video asks Kettering, Bellbrook school officials about critical race theory, transgender issues

A conservative political group’s new video makes multiple accusations against Dayton-area schools, including that they support the teaching of critical race theory, but the video appears to raise as many questions as it answers.

A Dayton Daily News review found that the race-related topics discussed in the video from “Accuracy in Media” are not central to critical race theory; the editing of the video leaves some questions about what subjects are actually being discussed; and instead of the group’s claim that “numerous” school officials are involved, there are two.

Still, the video did raise some questions about how Kettering and Bellbrook schools would respond if laws that were proposed in Ohio last year eventually changed what the schools could teach. And it revealed a question in Kettering schools about bathroom policy and transgender students.

Definitions of critical race theory vary, but it is generally the idea that structural racism is a crucial factor baked into much of American society.

Schools critical of approach

Kettering school district officials said they were “discouraged” by the reporting tactics of “Accuracy in Media,” and Bellbrook Superintendent Doug Cozad said the group openly lied to a Bellbrook schools administrator.

Cozad said the man and woman who visited Curriculum Director Betsy Gann on June 28 to make the video presented themselves as parents of a second-grader who were leaving Texas for Ohio. Cozad said the pair falsely said they were looking for a school district that taught anti-racism and “wanted to know what our efforts were.”

When asked about how the pair who made the video represented themselves, Accuracy in Media President Adam Guillette said he “would rather not give away the tactics of our undercover journalists,” calling the issue “an ongoing investigation.”

Kettering school officials said the group used “only the parts and pieces of the conversation that served their purpose and furthered their agenda,” pointing to Accuracy in Media’s statement at the end of the video criticizing public school systems in general and calling for “school choice” legislation.

Critical race theory

A press release from the political group Monday makes two primary claims — that its video shows “school administrators admitting that teachers are slyly and stealthily teaching critical race theory” and that the educators in the video are “willing to circumvent any new laws or bans.”

The claim that schools are teaching critical race theory is not clearly supported by the video.

Gann says that Bellbrook schools have “always tried to be culturally responsive” and when asked about the term “anti-racism,” she talks about being an advocate and ally for students. She says some teachers did a voluntary training exercise among themselves in reading the book “White Fragility.”

In his portion of the video, Kettering Schools Student Services Director Rick Earley says very little about how Kettering teaches about race.

Neither educator actually discusses any details about what students are being taught about issues of structural racism and how they affect American society.

Kettering City Schools spokeswoman Kari Basson said critical race theory principles are not taught in their general K-12 curriculum.

Cozad said Bellbrook uses the State of Ohio-approved curriculum, and critical race theory is not taught in any of the district’s schools, “nor is it ever planned to be included.”

Previous Dayton Daily News reporting on this topic has shown that in nearly all local schools, the official curriculum does not espouse critical race theory. But schools acknowledge that individual teachers have wide latitude in how they present material in their classrooms.

Circumventing future laws?

The second claim, that the educators in the video would be “willing to circumvent any new laws or bans” that might be passed in the future, is more supported by the video, but questions remain, because of the editing of the five-minute clip.

At one point, the undercover Accuracy in Media representative asks Gann, “But if they ban it … can’t we just change the labels?” Gann says, “yeah,” and that the district has “always tried to be culturally responsive,” but the edited video doesn’t show the previous comments to know exactly what the “it” that might be banned is.

Similarly, the questioner asks Earley, “But I like that you guys are brave and you just change the label, I guess, and phrase it differently and you can do the same thing?” Earley responds, “That is correct,” but again, a cut seconds earlier in the video makes it unclear precisely what the “it” that would be phrased differently is.

Guillette, from Accuracy in Media, told the Dayton Daily News he would be happy to release a longer video with more context but said he was unable to do so by the end of the day on Monday. As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, he had not provided that video.

Cozad, the Bellbrook superintendent, said late Monday that if some education approach is banned, “we as a district would adhere to the state’s rules and regulations.”

Basson said Kettering schools can, “unequivocally state that the district would never knowingly violate the law. Furthermore, if it was found that a staff member of the Kettering Schools had knowingly broken the law, that individual would no longer be working for the district.”

Transgender questions

The other issue that stood out on the video came in a discussion with Kettering’s Earley about issues for transgender students.

“We totally respect that confidentiality,” Earley says in the video. “Even if the kid comes to us and tells us they’re trans, you know, the only time that we really have to get a parent involved is when it becomes a bathroom issue, for example.”

When the questioner asks, “Aren’t there young boys that abuse, like, the bathroom thing?” Earley responds, “There is no doubt. There is no doubt in my mind.”

After a cut in the video, Earley adds, “Some don’t care, you know — ‘I get a free show, I’m going’.”

When initially asked about transgender policies, Basson of Kettering schools said that issues are handled on a case-by-case basis, and when determining whether to accommodate a gender identity request, the school will consider evidence regarding whether the student has consistently, persistently, and insistently expressed the gender identity.

She said other issues considered are ensuring the student has equal access to, and an equal opportunity to participate in, the district’s education programs; as well as student safety and comfort, protecting student privacy and minimizing stigmatization of the student.

Asked, given Earley’s comments, if the district believed there were boys currently pretending to be trans so they could “get a free show” in a girls bathroom at school, the district said they have no reports of boys posing as transgender to access the girls’ restroom at school.

“If a student feels that their safety or well-being is being jeopardized — at any time, anywhere by anyone — they should let a trusted adult know about it, and the report will be taken seriously and thoroughly investigated,” Basson said.

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