Daniel Boone Area School District Superintendent James P. Harris has apologized for a Jan. 10 high school assembly program after some students, parents and school board members said the assembly’s message was divisive and politically-driven.
Harris said the focus of the presentation by the Tri-County YWCA of Pottstown was on empowering women.
Two groups of students heard the presentation — freshman and sophomores, and juniors and seniors.
It was the first in a series of presentations by the YWCA, approved by Daniel Boone High School Principal Preston N. McKnight, who was not at the Jan. 10 school board meeting.
“The message was a good message, but the delivery was off,” Harris told the school board at the beginning of the discussion.
“It was about racial inequality, and the presenter did different scenarios about the inequality of different races,” Harris said.
Harris said technical issues during the “Proximity to the Goal” exercise (at the junior/senior assembly) resulted in a (different/distorted) message.
Tri-County YWCA Chief Executive Office Stacey Woodland said Jan. 12 that the YWCA is offering its “Stand Against Racism” and “Teen Dating Violence Awareness” assemblies in regional high schools.
She said the goal is to raise “awareness about structural and institutional racism and the prevalence of teen dating violence.”
“This week, YWCA presented ‘Stand Against Racism’ to the entire student body at Daniel Boone School District’s High School, at the invitation of the Superintendent and High School Principal,” YWCA Chief Philanthropy Officer Diane Lauer said in a press release on Jan. 12.
“While there has been no formal collection of ‘feedback forms,’ there have been several parents who have expressed a range of emotions from surprise to outrage,” she said.
Lauer continued that “these opportunities to speak to students are important in the effort to eliminate racism,” and that it may take “five generations to dismantle the structural systems that perpetuate racism in our country and culture today.”
“YW’s across the country recognize that these conversations may begin with discomfort for participants … these are growing pains.”
School board member Steven Miller said the take-away by his daughter, who is a senior, was that she is a “privileged white female,” and those who have privileges should recognize that and share with those who aren’t privileged.
Board member Beverly Albright said her daughter felt more divided after the assembly.
“We’re experiencing the dangers of allowing someone else to come in and present on a sensitive issue,” said Albright.
Member Julia Olafson said it is hard to know what was approved for the assembly versus what was presented.
The assembly was not audio recorded, nor could it be, said school board Solicitor Brian Subers, due to student privacy.
“The intent was good but delivered wrong,” said Harris, adding that he would discuss with the YWCA before its next presentation, and he’ll “do a better job of vetting who comes in.”
“That person should never step foot in that school again,” said member Michael Wolfe, adding, “we should teach kids how to think, not what to think, and teaching inferior, superior — that is a bunch of crap.”
Member Dave Rathgeb said racism is a worthwhile topic but should be presented at the classroom level to provide for small group discussions.
Board members said there were several classroom discussions following the assemblies.
“Looking at their website (YWCA), they seem to have an agenda,” said Rathgeb. “We need procedures and processes to review who comes into our school district to speak, and we need to review the current process.”
Woodland said Jan. 12 that she had met with Harris and McKnight prior to Jan. 10 to review and discuss the upcoming presentation.
“They were at the assemblies and both gave it high praise and high remarks,” said Woodland, adding, “I was surprised that an apology letter was sent (to students and parents). The school district failed to alert students and parents of the sensitive issue” of the assembly.
Woodland said she spoke with Harris early Thursday morning and the superintendent asked her to attend the Jan. 22 school board meeting.