Burlington teacher's BLM curriculum leads to heated school board meeting

A fourth-grade teacher in Burlington has come under fire by some and drawn support from others after teaching her class about the Black Lives Matter movement and systemic racism. The lesson led to heated debate at the school board meeting Monday, Sept. 14.

The classroom controversy was not actually listed on the agenda, but it did send sparks flying, drawing dozens of community members to speak, and leading to many fiery moments. 

"Is the teacher pushing her own agenda on the students?" said a community member. "The answer is yes."

The Cooper Elementary School teacher recently presented the curriculum to her class addressing racism, recent protests and the Black Lives Matter movement. 

"Education is supposed to be a place where teachers are providing information to students," said Darnisha Garbade, president of the Burlington Coalition for Dismantling Racism.

Garbade said she stands with the educator, who is also a coalition member. 

"Why would parents get so angry about their children learning how to value the lives of Black and brown people?" said Garbade. "To me, that's even more of a reason why the district needs to take action."

The topic has caused a clash between parents, taking center stage during a Burlington Area School District board meeting Monday, where emotions ran high.

The lesson included questions like, "What are people protesting?" and, "How can we stop systemic racism?"

Some said they feel it was inappropriate, while others said it's an important subject students should learn.

"I ask that you consider her agenda," said a community member. "It was deceitful and wrong."

"These conversations are critical for our white students, but our Black and brown students especially, because it is acknowledging their experiences," said a community member.

The superintendent shared this message with families:

"Dear BASD Families,

"We would like to take a moment to address the unrest in Kenosha that has captured the nation’s attention. This week’s events have caused students to have questions. The district is committed to creating opportunities to discuss difficult topics. When students have these conversations, it is important to respect that people have varying perspectives.

"We learned last night that a 4th grade classroom at Cooper Elementary School shared Black Lives Matter (BLM) resource materials as part of a conversation and Social Studies lesson. The use of this resource was an individual decision, not part of the approved curriculum for Cooper Elementary School or the BASD. When we explored why this material was used, we learned that the class discussion ranged from how police officers protect us to why protests sometimes turn violent.

"Every day, the Burlington Area School District seeks to develop the capabilities of our students. While we are committed to creating more opportunities for conversation, we seek to do this from a neutral perspective. We have reminded staff to use supplemental resources that are age and developmentally appropriate without religious or political influence.

"We all want for our community to be a safe place to live and learn. Please continue to have conversations with your children about what they’re learning in school. When they come home with questions and you want additional clarification, it is ok to contact your student’s teacher.

"We hope that our neighbors in Kenosha will heal and rebuild quickly from all that has taken place. We’re grateful to live in a caring community that wants what is best for kids.On behalf of the Burlington Area School District,

"Superintendent Steve Plank"