The Higley Unified School District approved more than $5,000 in travel vouchers for educators to attend conferences over the strong objections of one of the board members.
The board voted 4-1 with Anna Van Hoek dissenting to allow Williams Field math teachers Matt Fish and Joshua Olson to attend the five-day National Council of Teachers of Mathematics annual conference in Washington D.C. as well as Higley High School fine arts teacher Cami McClellan to attend the National Council of Educators for the Ceramics Arts four-day conference in Richmond, Virginia.
Van Hoek’s objections centered on some of the presenters at the conference having topics related to diversity, equity and inclusion.
“We continue to send our educators on taxpayer dime to events such as this that is, again, extremely divisive about DEI, social emotional learning, critical race theory,” Van Hoek said. “It's supposed to be math and ceramics conference(s). How about keeping it about math and ceramics instead of pushing and teaching a Marxist agenda, which is one of the reasons why so many parents are pulling their kids from public education.”
But equitable practices are, for example, part of Individual Education Programs that are frequently used for special education, Board Member Amanda Wade said.
“The idea is we do want everybody to be equitable, but not everybody's at the same starting point and not everybody has the same toolbox available to them,” she said. “We make sure everybody has access to the same tools. I hear and understand that these words are troubling for you because we routinely have these types of conversations, but the nature of equitable practices in education is vital. Otherwise, students get ignored.”
But Van Hoek said the nature of such teachings is racist and that it was not OK to teach anti-racism by being racist.
“How does this kind of training that our teachers attend, how does that look to our white students?” she said. “I mean, it should apply to all the kids. There shouldn't be anything with color.”
Van Hoek had previously objected to an educator attending a foreign language conference, but the teacher and her administrators demonstrated how they chose only seminars at the conference that were within state standards and related to the district’s curriculum.
Vice President Michelle Anderson said that these conferences were much like that case.
“I imagine because it doesn't fall within our standards or it shouldn't be in our curriculum, that they would just walk right out of the seminar,” she said.
Tom Blodgett can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him @sp_blodgett on X. We would like to invite our readers to submit their civil comments, pro or con, on this issue. Email AZOpinions@iniusa.org.