(The Lion) — A Missouri school district is among many in the U.S. using what critics call anonymous snitching systems to report on so-called “equity” and “bias” incidents.
One parents group is warning such systems as the one used in the Webster Groves School District (WGSD) near St. Louis are ripe for abuse. A report by the watchdog Parents Defending Education (PDE) details 115 school districts around the country, representing more than 4,500 schools and nearly 2.5 million students, that deploy similar anonymous reporting systems.
Critics worry equity and bias incidents can refer to simple expressions of speech liberals don’t agree with, such as in the example “a boy can’t become a girl.”
“The report should reference bias incidents – example [sic] racism, bias, sexism, microaggressions, etc,” the instructions say.
Punishment meted out by the system can include “disciplinary action or educational/restorative practices” for students and an unspecified administrative process for employees and teachers. But “restorative practices” could be a fancy way of saying re-education training for wrong thinking, Alex Nestor, an investigative fellow at PDE, told The Lion.
That’s not always the case, Nestor added. And that’s one of the problems in the system: There is a lack of specific definitions for what is considered an incident.
“Webster Groves specifically says you can report incidents that ‘negatively impact district culture,’” Nestor told The Lion. “What does that mean? Does saying that there are two sexes negatively impact district culture? I’m sure there are lots of principals across the country who would say no, but, depending on the district, that’s certainly something that could be included as a reportable incident.”
Indeed, many such “incidents” could be reported that most would consider innocuous.
Phrases such as “school pride,” “assemblies and holidays,” and “student recognition” can “contribute to a sense of entitlement among some students, and feelings of frustration or inadequacy in others,” claims a handbook on the topic of bias, written by the far-left Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), as detailed on the PDE website.
Other examples of bias might include recognition for athletic or student achievement, because those students “enjoy privileges or are disciplined less severely for misconduct” because of their outstanding achievements, claims SPLC.
“Of course, if a kid is bullying another kid or making a racist remark, that’s something that a teacher should be told, a principal should be told, and that kids should be punished for,” Nestor said, though adding the anonymity of the system makes it subject to abuse.
Another resource listed on the Webster Groves website is a parent-led group founded in 2017 and dedicated to anti-bias against “families of color, LGBTQ+ children and families, [and] lower-income families” at a local elementary school.
The parents’ group recommends reading controversial writings such as the “1619 Project,” the largely discredited New York Times articles dedicated to Critical Race Theory; and an essay titled “White people are still raised to be racially illiterate. If we don’t recognize the system, our inaction will uphold it.”
Webster Groves’ reporting system and related initiatives are overseen by its diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) director, Dr. Shane Williamson, according to the website. Williamson was the district’s first DEI director, hired in October 2020.
Williamson also chairs something called the “Equity in Action Committee,” which “provides guidance to the district administration and Board of Education regarding the district’s anti-bias/anti-racism work, particularly in the areas of curricula, professional development, hiring and retention.”
A recent Supreme Court decision makes the employment considerations of the committee’s work a concern.
In a case against the University of North Carolina, the U.S. Supreme Court in June upheld the longstanding law that prohibits the hiring, firing or promotion of people based on race, which seems to be one of the primary purposes of the WGSD equity committee.
The practice of such DEI committees started at the “university level and has sort of trickled down to K-12 education,” Nestor told The Lion. “Oftentimes, as unfortunate as it is to say, the content that is pushed by these offices isn’t inclusive. It’s not about bringing people together. Rather, it’s about dividing teachers, staff and students by race.”
Indeed, Williamson is also involved with a district group called “Staff of Color,” which is “an affinity group for WGSD and SSD employees who identify as a person of color.”