CARMEL — An ongoing debate in Carmel is causing some parents to have the newly appointed Diversity, Equity and Inclusion officer removed from the district.
They said they don't feel its necessary to have such a position in the schools.
Parents shared their thoughts a Carmel-Clay School Board meeting Monday night about why they feel the DEI officer, who was hired just this past January, should be removed.
“DEI leads to the suppression of free speech and hostile exchange of ideas and the rise of cancel culture,” Dr. Allon Friedman, a parent said. “I should know. When I published a recent letter in the Current Carmel, criticizing DEI, a group of local DEI advocates, some of which may be here tonight, tried to slander my reputation and get me fired. Is this the behavior we want to encourage?”
They called the efforts political, divisive and emphasized differences between students, leading to intolerance and bullying.
“We seem to be blurring and crossing the lines of what the school should be educating our children on and what should be left to the parents,” Jennifer Reeves explained. “If the parents don’t have the right to be the main primary instructors of values and morals, then we have a massive power imbalance. I was appalled with the email when it stated that the DEI will be working with the assistant superintendent to diversify our staff through new teacher hiring. What happened to hiring the best and brightest? What does race or gender have to do with teaching our children how to read and write?”
They want the position removed and condemned Critical race theory: a concept that examines systematic racism as part of American life. District leaders stressed they do not teach Critical race theory and the DEI work in no way changes the curriculum.
“When the majority voted yes to the referendum, we were not voting for the DEI position,” Reeves said. “We were voting for SROs, so where are they? My ask tonight is that you drop this agenda of Critical race theory and reevaluate the need for a DEI position because this is going in the wrong direction and it will be the destruction of our schools, community and most importantly our children and our future generations. Not my child, not my school.”
“I was shocked,” Dr. Nandini Bhowmick said. “I was thinking are we in 1960s United States or are we in 2021?”
Other parents in the district, like Nichole and Todd Crosby, who were also at the school board meeting said, “What I heard and what I listened to was nothing but anger and hostility and misinformation.”
“We all need to empathize with each other and what I heard on Monday was zero empathy for what a program like this can do for our youth,” he said.
Terri Roberts-Leonard was hired by the district in January as its first DEI officer. So far, she has held multiple trainings and events, including an “Excellence in Equity” series for staff on topics of ally-ship, intersectionality and microaggressions. It’s something the Crosby’s are pleased about.
“I think coming from a pretty non-diverse community, we are blessed to have somebody that is not coming in to teach our children specific things, but they’re more to ensure that everybody has got the same comfort level and is understood and included and I just think it is a positive thing that can only make us grow as a community,” Crosby said.
The district superintendent said he wants students to feel included. The Crosby’s and others feel some parents might be misunderstanding the role of the DEI officer, by saying this ensures a safe learning environment for all students.
“I think if more of the parents knew about the things that are happening at the schools that are impacting the minorities and LGBTQ communities, they might understand why they think there’s a need for an officer," Crosby said. “But since they’re not a part of this community, they don’t know how these kids are being hurt and impacted.”
“I would say we absolutely need a DEI officer given that implicit bias exists and mark my words implicit bias exists in Carmel-Clay Schools,” Dr. Bhowmick, a parent said.
Dr. Bhowmick has a doctorate in education, teaching and learning and a daughter in the district. She said all staff need to be trained in how to deal with students from different cultural backgrounds.
“The teachers, they are not sure what to do and what to say,” Crosby said. “So I think the situation has come up that we’ve heard about enough think it’s they don’t care. But I don’t think it’s because they don’t care, that’s why this is so vital. Especially at the staff and teacher level. Because they’re afraid they’re gonna say the wrong thing. They don’t know how to handle it because they’ve probably never had to deal with that type of situation.”
They say DEI work should be bipartisan and hope it’s here to stay.
“Just want to open our hearts and get rid of all the hate, let’s see what we can do to make this a better place,” Crosby said.