by A.P. Dillon
- Durham Charter
- Enlists First-Graders for “Black Lives Matter” March
- School Pushes Social Justice Themes, Ferguson Protests and Teach For America
- Controversial Use of Taxpayer Funds
- School Director Tries to Push Parent into Retracting Criticism
Should six- and seven-year-old children be marching carrying protest signs and wearing “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts as part of a school-created event? Well, that’s what happened in Durham.
On March 17, a first-grade teacher at the Central Park School for Children in Durham held a “Black Lives Matter” march that included about two dozen children.
According to an article at The Daily Caller, children were signed up for the march and parents were not given an option of opting their child out of the event.
The Daily Caller article was written by Robert Mihaly. Mihaly has two children who attend the school. Mihaly took a close look at the teacher who organized the event, Stef Bernal-Martinez, and noted that Bernal-Martinez describes herself as a “Radical Queer Progressive Educator” and “white-passing Xicana.”
Allegedly, video of the children marching was posted online briefly but then was removed for the “safety” of the children. Bernal-Martinez even posted a photo of the children wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts to her Facebook page.
The school’s website bio for Bernal-Martinez says, “She is a young and new teacher who received her undergraduate degree in Political Science at The University of Texas at El Paso and her master’s degree in Early Childhood Education at Sarah Lawrence College.”
Bernal-Martinez is arguably putting that political science degree to work. According to the very liberal publication, IndyWeek, Bernal-Martinez said that “the kids came up with the idea.” Remember, the kids in her class are around six or seven years old.
In speaking with Mihaly about The Daily Caller article, he provided me with the text of several emails from John Heffernan, director of the school. In these emails, Heffernan threatens legal action if Mihaly does not have the article removed. Heffernan also told Mihaly that he has contacted the “lead attorney at UNC’s public school law division.”
In one email, Heffernan told Mihaly that his article was “violating the parent handbook” and perhaps his family’s “role in the school” should be examined:
“I have explained that [your] actions to submit and publish an article on the web is with school information, teacher names the way you have is causing hurtful, harassing, and hateful email to be sent to staff and board members. If you agree that this should continue then we need to discuss your family’s role in the school because it is violating our parent handbook. If you agree it should stop, then please remove the article from the Daily Caller.”
Mihaly said that he stands by what he wrote and will not be removing the piece unless the school promises there will be no future association with Black Lives Matter.
Mihaly also furnished me with the full article he submitted to The Daily Caller. The full article includes a number of footnotes. Read the full article here.
The article at the Daily Caller also notes that families with relatives or members who are police officers objected to the rally.
The Black Lives Matter movement nationwide has drawn considerable controversy given the violent riots in Ferguson, Missouri surrounding the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. The demonization of law enforcement overall has been a pervasive theme.
Those protests were, in fact, riots that included dozens of arrests, widespread looting, violent altercations and multiple incidents of arson. The movement gained more steam when national media outlets presented the “Hands up, don’t shoot”narrative, which was determined to be based on a lie.
I’ve noted the protests in the state of North Carolina, which also have taken place in Durham. In my research on these protests, it was clear that Teach for America had some hand in them. The Teach for America connection in Durham lined up with the organizers of the Missouri protests who were also affiliated with Teach for America.
National columnist Michelle Malkin picked up on my research and included it in her article at Townhall.com which chronicled the organizers in Ferguson as ‘paid agitators’:
“In Durham, North Carolina, two Teach for America officials led costly traffic blockades over the Ferguson, Missouri, shooting last December. North Carolina blogger A.P. Dillon identified protester Rachel Schankula as a TFA executive coach and program director dating back to 2001. Protester Robert Terrell Stephens, cited by police for attempting to incite a riot, is currently TFA’s director of alumni teacher leadership and also served as a community organizer for Obama for America.”
Teach for America itself is not hiding their social justice agenda. In an article at The Washington Post, a Teach for America teacher proudly proclaimed, “I am no longer a language arts and social studies teacher, but a self-proclaimed teacher of social justice.”
The organization has been highly criticized by knowledgeable experts, such as education historian Diane Ravitch. She criticized it for being politically oriented, for high turnover rates of their teachers, and for “sucking the air out of discussions on changing the profession.” Ironically, Ravitch gave this criticism in a 2011 Duke University speech. In 2015, Durham schools dropped their contract with Teach for America, citing a high turnover rate.
Teach for America is a 501(c)3 non-profit that has received millions of taxpayer dollars via the North Carolina General Assembly. Teach for America has also received funds from the state Department of Public Instruction via the federal Race To The Top grant. Perhaps it is time for the General Assembly to take a closer look at how this organization is spending the taxpayers’ money.
According to the Central Park School for Children website, the school is a public charter school that is a “child-centered, progressive charter school in Durham, North Carolina,” serving students in kindergarten through 8th grade.
Public charter schools are funded through public dollars. As such the schools deserve greater public scrutiny. The march at the school, based on a highly controversial movement, is plausibly an inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars. The infusion of social justice at the expense of time spent on actual academic subjects is never a good thing – especially for first graders ill-equipped to understand the themes of the march who should be focused instead on basics like reading and writing.
The Department of Public Instruction and the General Assembly have not been held accountable for any of these incidents nor – to my knowledge – have they even been questioned.
Until parents and taxpayers stand up and say, “Enough!” to incidents like this, they will continue to occur and possibly in greater frequency. Robert Mihaly was one parent who stood up. Where are the others?