This past Spring, Rockingham County Public Schools held “Equity Training” for their staff which included topics such as ‘structural racism’, creating “safer spaces” to do their work and ‘white privilege’.
The stated goals of the training sessions:
- Develop a common language and understanding to equip leadership in each school with an equity lens and framework for surfacing issues of inequity in their contexts.
- Provide leadership with the tools to create school improvement plans that include strategic ways to interrupt inequity structurally in order to respond to the needs of each individual student.
- Provide leadership with tools and support to create a school culture within which equity is a primary goal and every teacher and administrator is committed to supporting equity in their context.
The Rockingham School Board viewed a presentation on the Equity Training by Dr. Cindy Corcoran on March 13th, 2017.
Corcoran notes for the school board that these training sessions actually began in November of 2016. The initial sessions dealt with understanding ‘equity versus equality’ and the “structural nature of racism.”
Meetings called ‘ Equity Dialogue Circles’ were held on four dates beginning in March and running through June 12th.
In the presentation, Corcoran notes the training would be given by OpenSource Strategic Consultants. View the full PowerPoint presentation. Rockingham County Board meeting minutes can be accessed here.
Public and Parents Push Back
In the May meeting of the Rockingham County School Board, around six out of the ten individuals speakers were there to speak in opposition to the Equity training.
The first speaker, Diane Parnell, blasted the board over the training on behalf of angry teachers. Allegedly, teachers were not paid or given credit hours for attending the mandated training.
Parnell referenced videos that accompanied the training, saying that teachers had complained the videos were, “against their Christian principles.”
“When you can mention evilism, racism and heterosexualism in the same sentence – that you must get rid of these – something is wrong,” said Parnell, who is the Rockingham County GOP Chairwoman.
Parnell received rounds of applause near the end of her remarks when she said that the school board should listen to the people.
Other citizens said this kind of training only serves to create a bias that might not have been there in the first place and was creating a hostile environment for teachers and students alike.
Another speaker said that this training focused on dividing teachers and students, when the district should be trying to unify them.
Watch the relevant public comments portion of the May 8th meeting:
Follow The Equity Training Money
The contract for this training with OpenSource was obtained by American Lens and details a two-year long set of training events.
Rockingham County Schools will pay OpenSource a flat fee of $45,000 and an reimbursements up to $1500 for travel expenses over the course of the training.
Payment of the $45,000 will be made in five equal installments of $9,000 beginning in November of 2016 and continuing through May 31, 2018.
According to the contract, Rockingham County Schools also will, “arrange for and cover all other costs associated with the engagement, including meeting space, materials preparation, translation and interpretation services, and logistical support as needed.”
The email from Rockingham County Schools which accompanied the contract, indicated that the funding for this training came from grant money from two organizations:
“We worked with the Reidsville Area Foundation to secure a grant for $40,500 to assist with payment for services rendered and then we were awarded another $2500 from the Z. Smith Reynolds Trust which we earmarked for our portion of the cost for this year.”
Reidsville Area Foundation’s list of grants for 2016 only shows a $5,000 grant for equity related training.
Currently, Rockingham County schools faces budget constraints that may cause the closure of one or more schools operating below capacity.
The Rockingham County Commissioners did not meet the requested funding of the school board and superintendent for funding. Instead slashed the education allotment by $269,000. The district now faces around a $5.7 million shortfall.
Read the Rockingham County Schools Contract with OpenSource Strategic Consulting:
What Is OpenSource Strategic Consultants?
According to documents filed with the NC Secretary of state, the organization was founded in 2003 by Gita Gulati-Partee. The organization is based in Durham, North Carolina.
The company’s overall purpose appears to be consulting to, “addresses the leadership and organization development needs of nonprofits and other social change agents across the nation and globe.”
‘Equity training’ is a main focus for the organization.
On the company’s website, only one team member is listed – Gulati-Partee.
A search of LinkedIn found other team members: Kathleen Crabbs Clarke, Sterling Freeman, Evangeline Polly Weiss and Marisol Jimenez McGee.
At one point in the past, circa 2004, current NC General Assembly member Graig Meyer was on the team.
Z. Smith Reynolds also is the main source of funding for Blueprint NC, which several years ago penned an ‘attack memo‘ calling for the ‘crippling and eviscerating’ of all Republican elected officials.
In 2015, Z. Smith Reynolds gave Blueprint NC $650,000 for ‘operating costs’. The organization has also funded El Pueblo to the tune of over $150,000 per year over the last three years
OpenSource was also part of the Z. Smith Reynolds hosted event in 2014, titled Latino Immigrant Justice Movement Building in NC .
At the 2013 Annual Meeting NC Grant Makers Forum, Gulati-Partee co-hosted a panel with Leslie Winner of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. The panel was titled, When Inclusion Isn’t Enough: A Case Study in One Foundation’s Evolution to Inclusion and Racial Equity.