OVERLAND PARK — As she sat in the back of the conference room, behind rows and rows of people, she listened to this panel of four talk about classrooms in Kansas. How long did the members of this panel spend in public schools, she wondered. Specifically, how long did they spend in those in Kansas?

That was the reality for Overland Park Democratic Sen. Cindy Holscher on June 13 as she participated in a panel hosted by the Kansas Policy Institute, a nonprofit that describes itself as “engaging citizens and policy makers with research and information to adopt public policy solutions”. that protect the constitutional right to freedom of all Kansans, give them greater access to better educational opportunities, and allow them to keep more of what they earn.

The event, “The Cultural Divide Between Parents and Schools,” addressed topics such as critical race theory, gender identity, and parental rights in Kansas public schools. However, some Kansans were concerned about KPIs spreading false information.

The panel consisted of four speakers: Dave Trabert, CEO of KPI; Wilfred Reilly, author of “Hate Crime Hoax” and associate professor of political science at Kentucky State University; Robert Woodson, author and president of the Woodson Center, a nonprofit that supports grassroots initiatives to improve low-income communities; and Mary Miller, a private school that champions the education of Parents Defending, a nonprofit focused on “reclaiming schools from activists who promote harmful agendas.”

“When COVID (started) and with the George Floyd situation, schools had a knee-jerk hysterical reaction,” Miller said. “They changed policies, programs and brought in activists. These three things can cause a lot of chaos in schools, (which) are really at a tipping point. Parents discovered that the school system was unbalanced.

Holscher said there was no evidence to support the claim that Kansas schools brought in activists or made changes to the curriculum.

“Which militants are they talking about and who have been brought to the area? says Holscher. “A lot of things have been thrown around there that I think would make parents say, ‘Oh my God,’ and kind of worry them. But again, if it’s not quantified, is it actually happening? Is it happening around here? »

The term “activist” is often misused by KPI, according to Shawnee Mission School District spokesman David Smith.

“Look at the Kansas Policy Institute,” Smith said. “They literally testify on every bill related to education funding that comes through the Statehouse. It’s hard to imagine anyone more militant than them. It is their right. They hold certain beliefs and stand up for those beliefs, but then calling someone who perhaps brings a different perspective an activist is dishonest.

During the panel, Trabert provided two examples of schools in Kansas that his organization says are inappropriate. The other examples were either from the west coast or the east coast.

“We found a video of the Diversity Director at Shawnee Mission,” Trabert said, “explaining why it’s really important for school systems to talk to kids about gender identity and transitioning to another gender right from the start. kindergarten.”

This example, however, was taken out of context, Smith said. Trabert was talking about a minute and a half clip from an hour-long meeting with the parent-teacher association. Tyrone Bates Jr., Shawnee Mission School District Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Coordinator, spoke to parents about the importance of parent engagement and communication with teachers, according to Smith.

Kids are curious and ask questions when new topics come up, Smith said.

“I say an example of a child asking a gender related question of another child in the class, maybe because of the length of that child’s hair or something, (whatever), the question arises “Smith said. “Is it time to have a conversation about gender identity? The teacher must be able to answer them. Not talking about it would be unfair to the child about whom the question was asked.

Discussions of LGBTQ+ topics in education, Miller said, only confuse young students.

“The policies that have been put in place over the past two years have been an abject failure,” Miller said. “It created more defensiveness, more gender confusion and more emotional distress among the students. We had two years. The experiment failed.”

However, efforts to be more inclusive in public schools have been ongoing for more than two years. In 2015, the number of Gay Straight Alliance clubs increased following the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Marcus Baltzell, spokesman for the Kansas National Education Association, said it’s important for students to know that it’s the responsibility of educators to help them in any way possible.

“When it comes to gender identity, you know, we’re educators,” Baltzell said. “The whole point of being an educator is that we’re going to save the world, one child at a time. We welcome everyone who comes to our class, regardless of their condition, and we do everything we can to meet the needs of these students. »

During the Q&A portion of the panel, the audience was invited to write questions on index cards. One person asked anonymously, “Doesn’t that mean children shouldn’t be taught about slavery or Jim Crow?” That some people aren’t heterosexual? You turn a blind eye to American dissent.

Reilly said the problem was not teaching US history, but rather that it was being taught dishonestly.

“That argument, to me, is a variation of a common argument you hear on the political left, which is, ‘You oppose affirmative action, because you don’t like to be ultimately treated equally.’ “, said Reilly. “And that’s an interesting twist on the words. But the answer is no, I don’t like positive discrimination, because I don’t like to be treated differently.

Woodson, who is black, called himself a “certified racial exorcist” and told the mostly white audience that he absolved them of doing anything discriminatory. Many clapped in response.

Baltzell said that in the classroom, teachers do their best to teach without influence.

“We all want to teach honestly,” he said. “We want to keep politicians out of the classroom, and teachers should be able to teach America’s history, even the tough places. And we certainly have had a long history of struggling with equality and civil rights in America.

Noting that teachers and lesson information are already accessible, Baltzell said laws such as the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” only serve to complicate the job of teachers. A bill passed this session required teachers to file their lesson plans online, and if parents didn’t like a particular lesson, they could remove their child from that class period. Governor Laura Kelly vetoed the bill, and it did not become law.

“When you look a little closer,” Baltzell said, “what you see is educators jumping through hoops preventing them, quite honestly, from teaching.

“If we were to ask these same lawmakers who are behind these efforts if they would live by the same standards that they put in these bills, as lawmakers, we know they would be against it,” a- he added. “If they were to publish on a website every email, every conversation, every note exchanged between them and their offices and their constituents, we know they would be against it from the start.”

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