Dad Calls Out School's 'Lack of Transparency' With Social Justice Lesson

A father of an Oregon elementary school student has sought legal counsel following the removal of his child without his permission from her classroom during lessons of a social justice curriculum initiative.

After previously filing a complaint concerning what Jeff Myers described as a "lack of transparency" about Errol Hassell Elementary School's 21-Day Social Justice Challenge, Myers filed a separate complaint after his daughter was pulled out of her classroom and told to sit in the hallway with a book during one of the social justice lessons. When his daughter asked why she had to sit outside, her teacher told her that her father had requested it.

"The principal told my kid's teacher to remove her from the 21-day challenge lessons, which I absolutely did not ever ask for or even hint at," Myers told Newsweek, noting that he never wanted his daughter to feel singled out, excluded or embarrassed.

Myers' daughter also has a physical condition that, according to her father, can bring unwanted attention. "For her to be the only kid in her class and the whole school to sit in the hallway is just bad," he said.

He is now seeking legal advice regarding the incident. His previous complaint to Beaverton School District concerned the alleged dismissiveness from the school's principal Cynthia Moffett towards his inquiries about the 21-day challenge.

According to the Beaverton School District's Office of Equity and Inclusion, the program's goal is to "learn more about ourselves and each other to serve the entire EHSL community with more efficacy and empathy."

The school's website notes the challenge was created and collaborated on by Errol Hassell's social worker, learning specialist, student success coach, and academic coach, as well as Principal Cynthia Moffett. The challenge begins with each day's "opportunity" presented at a school-wide morning Zoom meeting, which is then followed by a discussion facilitated by each classroom teacher.

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A concerned father is pursuing legal action after his daughter was taken out of class against his wishes during a social justice lesson. Above, a teacher walks among the masked students sitting in a socially distanced classroom session at Medora Elementary School on March 17, 2021, in Louisville, Kentucky. Jon Cherry/Stringer

"Just to reiterate, my primary concern at first about the 21-Day Social Justice Challenge wasn't about the books or videos. I was concerned about what kind of conversation they were going to have around these," Myers told Newsweek.

He said it was the principal's alleged refusal to provide information and her vague replies through email, along with an unwillingness to allow him to even join in (in person or virtually) that became the bigger issue.

"All they provided was links to videos," Myers explained. "I wanted to know what are the questions and learning targets they're trying to meet."

When Newsweek reached out to Moffett to inquire about the components of the 21-Day Social Justice Challenge and about the situation that occurred with Myers' daughter, Moffett abruptly hung up.

Beaverton School District Public Communications Officer Shellie Bailey-Shah responded to Newsweek's request for comment from the district's Superintendent Don Grotting through email.

"In terms of parent Jeff Myers, he filed a formal complaint with the district, asking to see—in addition to the videos that were already shared—related lesson plans and materials. During that process, Principal Moffet misunderstood his wishes and thought that he wanted to opt his daughter out of the 10-minute assemblies at the beginning of the day," explained Bailey-Shah.

"Therefore, his daughter did not participate for two days. However, when it was made clear to Principal Moffett that that wasn't Mr. Myers' intent, his daughter returned to class to participate in the daily assemblies. Principal Moffet has acknowledged the error," she said.

Before Myers filed his complaint, he participated in a lengthy email thread from January 19 to January 31 with Moffett, the district's Deputy Superintendent Ginny Hansmann, and the Executive Administrator for Elementary Schools Patrick Meigs. It began with Moffett emailing Myers the planned resources for the rest of the 21-Day Social Justice Challenge after he requested more information.

Those resources included a PBS video called Arthur on Racism, a video titled Kids Talk About Microaggressions, and another video featuring an interview with one of the district's high school graduates, who wrote A Kids Book About Racism, among others.

Myers said he received more resistance when he asked for further specifics beyond the initiative's basic topics and resources—like standards, structure and assessment. He said he was directed to the school district's "All Students Belong" policy, its Equity and Inclusion web page, and its "Antiracist Vision Statement."

Bailey-Shah explained that the principal and staff at Errol Hassell created the challenge with age-appropriate content to be rolled out in January, which the principal communicated to all parents and guardians via her weekly newsletter. She also provided links to all the videos that students would be viewing that week and continued to communicate weekly in her newsletter about the content for upcoming weeks.

Videos included PBS Kids Talk About Race, Racism and Identity, The Colors of Us by author Karen Katz and Just Ask: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Bailey-Shah said students would view a 10-minute virtual assembly at the beginning of the school day, with a discussion facilitated later by teachers that included prompts with students' questions and answers that largely directed the conversation.

The kerfuffle surrounding Errol Hassell's social justice initiative isn't the first time parents of students in the Beaverton School District have questioned transparency when it comes to classroom instruction.

In late January, some parents were caught off guard to learn that a Queer-Straight Alliance (QSA) club for fourth and fifth-grade students had been formed at Raleigh Hills Elementary School.

The club was presented by fifth-graders and a social worker as one that would "have conversations about identity, gender, equal rights, and social issues" and would "explore LGBTQ+ history and activism" and "advocate for change in our schools and community."

After fourth-graders were presented with a short slideshow explaining the club's formation, a sign-up sheet was sent around to collect signatures from students to take part.

Bambi Russell's fourth-grade daughter signed up just like most of the other kids, except for one particularly vocal student who insisted he couldn't pen his name without his parents' permission, she told Newsweek.

"For myself, I don't understand how a 10-year-old is questioning their sexuality. I don't understand this so I can't sit and talk down to it," said Russell, who mentioned that her daughter is by nature reserved and was allegedly unaware of what she was signing up for.

Fellow parent Arlene Koepal was also upset.

"I'm usually neutral and I'm very open-minded to all things but after he told me about this he was just upset," said Koepal of her 10-year-old son, who refused the club's invitation. "I was proud of him for not folding. To know he didn't want to be a part I thought was very courageous of him," she told Newsweek.

According to Bailey-Shah, the club was formed after four fifth-grade students had asked the social worker at Raleigh Hills if they could make a presentation to their classmates about their desire to start a QSA at the school. She said their presentation lasted about two minutes and the students then asked those who were interested in learning more to sign up.

"About 30 students showed up for the club's first meeting the following week," she added.

"The District does not have any Board policy that requires parental permission for any aged student to participate in student groups or clubs nor does Board policy require the District to inform parents regarding the content or availability of student groups or clubs," Bailey-Shah also said in her email to Newsweek. "The club is student-run and plans to meet during lunch recess; a staff member will supervise during the meetings but won't be leading or facilitating."

Russell, who was allegedly told by the principal she was a "distraction" when she tried to sit in on her daughter's Zoom classes, felt her frustration with school administrators reached a boiling point.

"School is supposed to be academic based," Russell said. "I asked for academic help...and I was given a list of tutors to pay for. Now you're going to present something totally inappropriate for her age without giving me anything to opt-out of?"

"Technically it's not the group but the way it happened," added Russell, referring to the QSA club. "It's secretive. Secrecy is a very huge part of it."

During a January school board meeting, parents of those students who formed the club publicly called the parents present who were questioning its formation "homophobic."

"It is unreal, that's the best thing you can say to concerned parents? I mean, give me a break," said Koepal, who noted her "very social child" who usually loves his friends and school has apparently now been talking more and more about wanting to be home-schooled.

Another parent of a seventh-grader that wished to remain anonymous in the school district, gave Newsweek examples of allegedly inappropriate content her son has received during his education.

She said she started noticing a shift in the curriculum once he transitioned to middle school, which included more lessons related to sexual education, and Language Arts book talks exploring readings about "a boy who is swimming in whiteness" and the "secrets about a girl wishing she was a boy." She said that some of the content she saw during remote learning looked to be linked to college curriculum.

"Why even talk about this stuff?" she said. "There are conversations I was planning to have with him in late high school but now I'm being forced to have discussions with him now. It's destabilizing children and confusing them and making them into these immutable beings."

"Parents, they don't know what's happening—that's the most frustrating thing of all," Good added. "If everybody knew what was going on they would take some issue with it."

Sarah Smith, a long-time educator and former Beaverton School District school board member, attributes part of the problem to the fact that within the last five years the communication protocols between parents and school administrators have been altered.

"They got rid of local school committee and site councils (made up of parents and community members and the principal and administrators) and so you can't have a dialog anymore," said Smith. "It's eliminated the back and forth dialog completely."

Myers, like Russell, Koepal and Smith, noted their main desire is for their school kids to be taught academics and get as caught up as possible after the educational disruptions they experienced during the pandemic.

"That's all we're asking—get back to the basics," said Smith. "Stop doing one-sided discussion on politics and social and moral perspectives when you are a publicly-funded organization."

"Our biggest concern is that our teachers honestly feel that they can do a better job educating our kids than us," she added. "They're supplementing as they see fit."

Correction 2/5/2022 1:29 p.m. ET: In an earlier version of this story, Jeff Myers' name was spelled Meyers.