Protests over race disrupt CUSD board meeting - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Protests over race disrupt CUSD board meeting

June 22nd, 2021 development
Protests over race disrupt CUSD board meeting

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

The Chandler Unified School District has become the most recent target of an organized, statewide effort to disrupt school board meetings and accuse educators of indoctrinating students with “racist ideology.”

Over the last couple of months, school districts in Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tucson have had large groups of activists attend their board meetings to protest the suspected use of “critical race theory” in school curriculum.

Some of these rowdy protests have prompted boards to prematurely end their meetings due to safety concerns or unruly attendants.

Dozens of angry parents and conservative activists made CUSD the site of their latest protest on June 9 over what they perceived as a threat they consider divisive and counterproductive.

The board was not scheduled to vote or discuss anything related to CRT or equity. But the crowd of visitors didn’t care. They wanted to make their opposition known.

The large turnout did not intimidate CUSD board members enough to interrupt their regular business, yet the meeting didn’t end without a couple hiccups.

As the board meeting was getting ready to begin, one of the conservative activists was hauled away by Chandler police officers and put in a patrol car.

Videos and photos identify the activist as Steven Tyler Daniels, who has recently become a regular fixture at school board meetings across the Valley.

Daniels, part of a group called the Patriot Party, often records himself attending school board meetings and confronting district officials.

During the CUSD meeting, Daniels recorded himself condemning police officers and district officials for not allowing the full crowd of attendees inside the district’s office to watch the board meeting.

Throughout the pandemic, CUSD has been limiting attendance inside the boardroom in order to maintain social distancing. Visitors are still given the opportunity to come inside to speak before the board or they can watch the meeting live online.

Chandler Police had several offices standing guard outside the district’s office to manage the entering and exiting of attendees.

Daniels felt the district’s accommodations were not good enough to satisfy Arizona’s open-meetings law and loudly voiced his objections outside the district’s office.

In his video, Daniels called the Chandler officers “tyrannical” and described the country’s current state of affairs as being comparable to “pre-Nazi Germany.”

As he was recording his video, Daniels was placed in handcuffs and was escorted off the district’s property.  Chandler Police said he is being charged with one count of criminal trespassing for refusing a district employee’s request to leave.

Inside the boardroom, several visitors used the meeting as an opportunity to express concerns they have with “critical race theory.”

Even though CUSD has repeatedly insisted it does not teach “critical race theory” to staff or students, many parents are not convinced that they’re children are not being exposed to the academic concept.

Scholars coined the CRT concept in the 1970s to examine how the legacies of slavery and segregation continued to impact Black Americans through “oppressive” social structures.

But some conservatives feel CRT promotes division and unfairly demonizes one race over another.

The district’s promotion of equity initiatives to resolve academic disparities between students of different demographics has often become conflated with the CRT movement and some parents see no difference between the two.

“It’s all the same,” said parent Christine Scanlon. “They’re just synonyms.”

But other parents have been supportive of equity initiatives and hope they can prevent instances of racism on campus.

Jennifer Singleton is one of the district’s equity supporters and claims her biracial son has been discriminated against by his classmates at Perry High School.

“This is not good. This should not happen,” Singleton said. “My son should not be afraid to go to school.”

Divisions within the Chandler community over CRT and equity have been distressing for CUSD ever since it began having discussions about equity a couple years ago.

But Joel Wirth, a retired CUSD administrator and one of the board’s newest members, believes the fracture has worsened and blamed a couple specific members of the community for widening the division.

“I’m incredibly saddened by what’s going on,” Wirth said on June 9. “But all of a sudden, in my opinion, we’ve probably got two people that are creating a huge divide within this district.”

Wirth publicly blamed fellow board member Lindsay Love and Kurt Rohrs, a parent and regular visitor of board meetings, as the primary causes for much of the equity strife.

Love has long been a defender of the district’s equity initiatives and has not been timid about criticizing those who condemn equity.

During the board’s May meeting, Love said the recent suicide of an African-American student was a sign that CUSD needs to be more inclusive and blamed the tragedy in part on those who were trying to stop the district’s equity work.

“They are killing our children,” Love said last month. “This child did not die because he had to wear a mask…He simply did not feel supported and he did not feel like he fit in within his community.”

But Wirth believes some of Love’s comments have gone too far and have inflamed her supporters.

On the other side of the spectrum, Wirth criticized Rohrs, a vocal critic of CRT and equity, for doing similar damage within the community’s conservative circles.

Rohrs defended his beliefs by calling equity as nothing more than a tool to promote tribalism and identity politics.

“Do not judge our kids and discriminate them about who they are, where they came from, or how they live,” Rohrs said. “All of your policies need to treat these kids as individuals and not as an identity.”

Love disparaged Wirth for calling out herself and a private citizen during a board meeting and demanded he apologize. Wirth adamantly refused.

Board President Barbara Mozdzen attempted to end the contentious meeting on a calming note by offering her reasoning for the merits of equity.

The concept of equity is to give students what they need, she said, because students from different backgrounds have different needs. The way a parent raises a toddler is different than how they raise a teenager, she explained, because they have different needs.

“We are trying to bring equity to the students here so that they can get what they need to be successful in life, career, and in college,” Mozdzen said.