Lee’s Summit Superintendent Dennis Carpenter took a stance on Twitter Tuesday and used the hashtag of the day: #Racistinchief, referring to President Donald Trump.
Carpenter’s tweets set off a flurry of comments, with some saying they were disappointed to see the leader of their public school district taking a political position on social media. But most said that given the racial animosity Carpenter has experienced in Lee’s Summit, they support the superintendent’s right to speak out on race.
“People of color are often told to ‘go back where we came from,’” tweeted Carpenter, who is African American. “Direct & indirect messages constantly say; go back to your country, side of town/neighborhood, former job, etc. You aren’t needed or wanted in spaces we’ve normed as white. #RacistInChief gets a 0 for originality!”
And then he tweeted, “When we normalize and fail to denounce racist @Twitter rants from the leader of the free world, we shouldn’t be surprised that similar lines of thinking show up at the local level. #Sad.”
The post was retweeted by Manny Abarca, a Kansas City Public Schools board member.
It was the kind of tweet one might expect to more likely come from a politician. Consider Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, an African American Kansas City Democrat, who posted a string of tweets on the subject including this one: “After reading President Trump’s remarkably racist tweets about four of my colleagues, my most agonizing pain results from the seamy silence and notorious neutrality of those whom I believe to be principled people.”
Cleaver also tweeted, “Although I have a public and political record of not calling individuals racist, even when they are, right now I am being tested like never before.”
The tweets were a response to Trump, who on Sunday posted tweets telling four Democratic congresswomen of color to “go back” to their countries “and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Three of the four were born in the United States.
The issue of race has put the Lee’s Summit school district and community under a spotlight after Carpenter and his administrative team proposed hiring a firm to lead racial equity training for teachers and staff.
Folding to pressure from the mostly affluent and predominantly white community, the school board twice turned down firms suggested by Carpenter. Community members on social media referred to Carpenter as “the race doctor,” and the Jackson County sheriff assigned a security detail to Carpenter after the superintendent received threats. The district’s school board president had to apologize after equating being blond with the racism felt by people of color.
Last month, the board voted to hire a firm to start equity training as soon as this summer.
Carpenter, whose Twitter handle is @EquitySup1, said that to him it was clear the president’s tweet was about race and that most media outlets across the country had already identified Trump’s tweets as racists. And in response, Carpenter said, his tweet, “was about race. It is not about politics.”
But some who responded to Carpenter’s tweets disagreed. Cameron Greenwell, who is a student in the district, tweeted “but you don’t have the right to impose your political views on students within our district.”
Ahmad Cousin, a Lee’s Summit district alum, responded, “He has literally been threatened by people in the district and was made a laughing stock at council meetings for wanting to have a equity plan. … he sees racism clear as damn day. Don’t critique him for trying address a president who literally said go back to where u came from lmao.”
Kevin White tweeted, “A man who has been regularly beaten down and criticized because he is black has every right to point out the same actions by others. Until we live the life of a person of color we are ignorant to how much comments and words really impact us.”
Gannon Brown tweeted: “I am pretty sure your job is about the kids in the district. No one cares about your political views!”
Carpenter said that while his intent was not at all political, he isn’t aware of any state or national rule or guidance that frowns on superintendents taking a political stand on social media.
“Obviously superintendents have the right to have personal views and share them as they so choose,” said Dave Schuler, past president of the American Association of School Superintendents and the 2018 national Superintendent of the Year.
Schuler, who is a superintendent in Chicago, said his association believes it is important for superintendents to use social media to promote the district and connect with the community. But he said superintendents also should post to social media with caution. “They should be cognizant of the culture of the community. “
The Twitter account Carpenter used is “owned by Dr. Carpenter and not the district,” said Kelly Wachel, the district spokeswoman. “He uses it for both his professional and personal perspective. “