What’s happened: Thanks to the impact of this community and the many voices expressing concern, “Parents of New Trier’s” Jasmine Hauser and Betsy Hart met with Superintendent Linda Yonke and incoming Superintendent Paul Sally for about 90 minutes on Monday night, February 6.
We appreciated Ms. Yonke’s and Mr. Salley’s time. In the end, the superintendents:
- Refused our request to add one or more suggested speakers to any part of the day to add balance and diffuse the divisiveness this event is causing in the community, though we explained that we know of fresh voices who were available that day;
- Refused our request to allow a time later in the year when, after working with certified teachers, we could produce a one hour or so program to bring diverse voices to help problem solve on race relations;
- Refused our request to find a way to ensure that parents sign off on the panels their children chose, as they have to do for other course work (though they will be emailing parents to suggest parents find out through the school website which panels their children intent to attend);
- Refused our request to postpone the program until it could be reworked to include fresh voices for problem solving on race relations.
Ms. Yonke’s and Ms. Salley’s primary response seemed to be that parents do not have input into the curricula in general, and there should not be an expectation for it here. Our response to that is the circle of closure when it comes to other curricula – that it be developed by educators and applied by certified teachers – was “broken” for Seminar Day by including many community voices with no such credentials. I.e., Monica Trinidad, John the Rapper, Kevin Coval. etc. Once the circle was opened to such voices, there can be no further legitimate objection to excluding parents’ input. Further, many New Trier parents have extensive experience in these issues, from public policy to volunteerism, to building non-profits that focus on these issues. To exclude these voices was not just wrong, but short-sighted to creating an excellent program for featuring multiple ways to problem solve on issues of race and racial awareness.
Further, New Trier’s “Voices in Equity” is a fine student organization and their particular views and approach to problem solving on race relations are well represented throughout the Seminar Day curricula. However, to task only this student organization to develop the Seminar Day program, two years running, likely missed an opportunity to add diverse views from the student body as a whole. Had a variety of student groups at New Trier been approached to provide input for the day, it is likely a far more diverse program representing different worldviews and ways of problem solving on these issues would have been established from the outset, avoiding from the beginning the very divisions about Seminar Day we are seeing throughout the community today.
Further, the necessity to expand the pool of input should have been obvious to administrators after last year’s program saw more than 40 percent of students not come to the Seminar Day. (The fact the school day, MLK day, was typically a holiday is irrelevant. People had choices, 42 percent of students chose to do something else rather than attend.)
The Superintendents did express concern at what we showed them was happening to “Parents of New Trier” when we demonstrated the organized, profanity-filled campaign that has erupted against “Parents of New Trier” in response to our attempt to bring diversity to the program. They seemed to take what we showed and told them about very seriously. We encouraged them to consider that an intolerant campaign against different world views did not reflect well on a New Trier community that claims it is seeking tolerance. We asked them to issue a statement against the abuse and threats, and make the case that tolerance calls for a respect for different viewpoints and freedom of thought. They said they would take this under consideration.
At that we closed the meeting.
Parents of New Trier will continue to be a resource for fresh voices and diversity to problem solve on issues of of race relations, helping the African American community, and in discussions on civil rights. We will continue to oppose a Seminar Day line-up that lacks fresh voices and remains biased and divisive to the community. We will be further and again expressing our concerns to the Board as a whole, including at the Board Meeting on February 20.
We also recognize that Seminar Day will come and go, but the need to problem solve in tangible ways, especially with Chicago experiencing such violence at this time, will only grow. “Parents of New Trier” looks forward to being part of the solution through the creation of a 501 c3 we will be announcing soon. Stay tuned.
For more, read our “statement” on our cover page.