Parents complain, so Lee’s Summit schools drop $7,000 plan for racial equity training

After heated complaints from parents, the Lee’s Summit school district has backed off from a plan to hire a California firm to train the district’s teachers and staff in cultural and racial equity.

Lee’s Summit hoped to address racial equity and close the academic achievement gap between white students and students of color. But last month, when officials said they would spend $7,000 to hire the black-owned Pacific Education Group, founded in 1992 with a commitment “to achieve racial equity in education,” parents spoke out at a school board meeting and on social media.

Pacific Education Group has been in high demand in recent years, training educators, city leaders and corporate executives from Lawrence to New York and Philadelphia to Los Angeles and around the world.

Its founder, Glenn Singleton, who was to be invited to Lee’s Summit, is the author of “Courageous Conversations About Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools.” It is the No. 1 book recommended by the Missouri School Board Association for educators and administrators to read this year.

Dennis Carpenter, who is the district’s first African-American superintendent, had said that bringing in Singleton would give the district “an opportunity to hear from an expert.”

Based on a formula involving Missouri Assessment Program scores, Lee’s Summit’s black students performed nearly 84 points below white students in 2015, 2016 and 2017. And, according to district data, the margin is widening not narrowing.

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Singleton’s visit was halted “after community concern was expressed,” said Kelly Wachel, district spokeswoman. But she said, “the Board of Education still maintains the commitment to equity and closing the achievement gap for all our students. … Because one of our Board of Education’s priorities includes achievement, innovation and equitable practices, it will continue to be a focus for us.”

Parents told board members they did not object to equity training but wanted to know why it should focus on inequities related to race. They asked, what about inequities for children with disabilities?

Others were vocal in social media posts that attacked Carpenter, calling him “the race doctor,” and also opposed Singleton’s firm because of its cost, and its discussion of white privilege and the cultural competence of white teachers educating black children.

Wachel said the district is now working with some other groups, including the Missouri School Board Association and an undisclosed “suburban district across the state,” to provide training for teachers and administrators in racial diversity, equity and inclusion.

“This is important work,” she said, “important work that all of our students deserve. “