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School equity training sparks controversy
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School equity training sparks controversy

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EDEN — A few concerned citizens approached the Rockingham County Board of Education on May 8 to speak out against the district’s equity training required of administrators and instructional coaches.

“The reason I know about the equity training is a group of teachers came to us because they felt like they needed help,” said Rockingham County GOP Chair Diane Parnell. “This equity training—that was mandated upon them that they got no credit hours for and they must sit through this on their own time—was something against their Christian principles, and if you take a look at it as I did, those equity training videos, it did seem to be against their principles.”

Speakers took issue with the training video’s stance on topics like white privilege and transgender issues.

Parnell added that one training video implies a need to get rid of “evilism, racism and heterosexualism.”

“Look around,” she said. “Most of the people in here I almost guarantee you are heterosexual. Do you want to get rid of them?”

The training video, which was shown to the public at an informal executive committee meeting for the Rockingham County GOP on April 20, does not refer to getting rid of heterosexual people or heterosexuality, but does refer to getting rid of heterosexism. 

Heterosexism is a form of discrimination against homosexual people through the assumption that heterosexuality is the normal sexual orientation and homosexuality is an abnormal sexual orientation.

Following the meeting, Superintendent Rodney Shotwell told RockinghamNow that the district has already implemented changes to the training in response to public concern.

“It still deals with some current issues that we have, but I don’t think the controversy that some people might have thought could potentially be in the third and fourth modules are going to be there,” he said. “… We changed it to try to meet the needs, but we’re still doing the training, but it’s just different material that we’re using.”

According to Shotwell, this training was introduced after the state threatened to withhold about 15 percent of the district’s federal funding after a disproportionate number of minority students in the exceptional children’s program were suspended in 2012 and 2013.

“I don’t get enough money as it is to address the needs of our special needs population so every dollar is crucial, and besides, it’s the right thing,” he said.

Shotwell added that this training does not ask trainees to change their beliefs, which was one of the concerns voiced during public comments.

“I told a teacher at one of the trainings I went to, you know, ‘I’m not asking you to change your beliefs by any stretch of the imagination,’” he said. “‘It’s just simply letting you know that kids are going to come to you from sometimes a home that’s a little bit different values than yours and you just need to know that they’re there, but I’m not asking you to change.’”

Farran Wilkinson reiterated an issue she had heard in her comments.

“I just want to share light on a situation that happened at Western Rockingham Middle School where a teacher caused some of her students to stand up and apologize to other students based on their inequal opportunities of education, so I would like to know how our schools can allow an educator to humiliate, bully and degrade students,” Wilkinson said. “This is not a matter of race but a matter of a teacher using fear and the embarrassment of children to satisfy her own personal anger or beliefs.” 

Shotwell said that he cannot confirm or deny the incident with the information he had at the time, but Rockingham County Schools is investigating the matter.

He also clarified that the equity training was for school administrators, including himself, and the instruction coaches. None of the training is shared with students.

“It’s not even open for discussion with them,” he said. “It shouldn’t be.”

Multiple speakers during public comments criticized the district’s use of OpenSource Leadership Strategies, a Durham-based agency which aims to provide consultation for organizations to enact social change.

“Other people in the county have used this group,” Shotwell said. “That’s how it kind of came about, but, I can just tell you, the conversations I had in the couple places I went to, I didn’t think it was all that controversial myself, but I want to say I respect what everybody had to say today.”

Contact Justyn Melrose at (336) 349 -4331, ext. 6140 and follow @jljmelrose on Twitter.

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