Diversity consultant divides Darien’s parents, school board members: “destructive” or “inclusive”?

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DARIEN – Parents and some members of the Board of Education clashed again over the ongoing work on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in the district, with many continuing to oppose the hiring an education consultant who has been meeting with students for months.

The district hired a California-based consultant, Ken Shelton, to conduct informal dialogues and guided discussions with students and faculty members throughout the school year. But in the public hearing at the Education Council meeting this week, some parents said they disagreed with the views Shelton posted on personal blogging sites and on social networks.

Over the summer, Shelton posted a four-part essay series titled “The Classification is Capitalist, Racist and Exploitative” on social media site Medium..com.

School officials said Shelton would not change Darien’s grading systems.

“I think Ken’s presence in our education system and his DCI initiatives is proof in itself that the end goals are Marxist in nature and destructive by design,” parent Conor Godfrey said in public comments Tuesday. “It is Marxism disguised as tolerance, and for my part, I do not support it.”

The school board has discussed Shelton’s work with the district in several previous meetings. They interviewed Shelton at a board meeting in November, telling him about his views on school policy.

At Tuesday’s meeting, board member David Brown still objected to Shelton. Many parents are alarmed that the district has hired an outside consultant to conduct diversity work, Brown said.

Brown cited a previous controversy with another hired consultant who worked on the board’s strategic plan, which he said caught parents off guard.

Superintendent Alan Addley immediately disagreed, urging school board members to listen to students who have already testified about a school culture that many say silences marginalized students.

“I would like this council, quite frankly, to step up and support this initiative,” Addley said. “David, respectfully, it couldn’t be more inclusive. “

Other board members said they couldn’t make a decision about Shelton based solely on writing some find controversial.

“We are going down a real slippery slope, we are starting to look at people’s perspectives and decide as a board of directors in particular or as a community whether to hire or accept them,” said John Sini, member of the advice.

The district has already called on Shelton for work in progress in schools, said Deputy Superintendent Christopher Tranberg.

Since October, Shelton has met with staff and two groups of middle and high school students, Tranberg said. It comes after the district reported several swastikas found on school property, along with other incidents of discriminatory social media posts.

The district has also implemented other anti-discrimination programs. Middlesex Middle School recently appealed to the Anti-Defamation League to fight anti-Semitism. The students spoke with a Holocaust survivor during the program, Tranberg said.

Students from Middlesex also spoke to a high school student about their experiences with bullying and anti-Semitism, Tranberg said. The students formed a new Gender Sexuality Alliance club with support from the staff.

But some parents said the pace of the work did not match the urgency needed to tackle the many instances of graffiti and hate speech in schools.

“These incidents happened in September and October, these students came to you in October and asked (the school board) to act,” said parent Julie Punishill, calling the delay disappointing. “And in all fairness, other than college, not much has been done. … I feel like there are some very loud members and parents in the community trying to curb DEI. And I feel like you’re allowing that to happen.

The district has budgeted $ 23,000 for Shelton’s work so far, officials said Tuesday. The school board will have to approve or deny a request for a $ 40,000 budget transfer next month to pay Shelton if it chooses to retain him for additional services starting in the new year.

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