The San Diego Unified School District responded to reports it forced its teachers to attend a “white privilege” training during which they were told “you are racist,” “you are upholding racist ideas, structures, and policies” and “white people in America have an ability to thrive, not just survive.”
On Dec. 3, conservative blogger Cristopher Rufo published a report on his website that accused the district of making the training mandatory and telling them “they must commit to becoming ‘antiracist’ in the classroom.”
Rufo’s report was picked up and expounded upon by the New York Post. The newspaper reported that Rufo’s leaked documents showed the district “began the sessions with instructors telling the faculty members that they will experience ‘guilt, anger, apathy [and] closed-mindedness’” because of their “white fragility.’”
While the PowerPoint presentation shared by Rufo did open with a slide that asked attendees to “acknowledge that we meet on stolen land, taken from Indigenous peoples,” the context of the other slides is not fully explained.
Rufo and the Post framed the “you are racist” statement as a declaration trainers made to the assembled teachers, while other statements like it were followed by questions to participants about how they would feel if such things were said to them and what they would say to someone who told them these things.
In a statement, SDUSD Superintendent Cindy Marten said the reports are “inaccurate and misleading,” and the training was optional.
“The report includes inaccurate and misleading statements about a successful professional development session offered to teachers on a voluntary basis,” Marten’s statement said. “Following the murder of George Floyd, we provided teachers with voluntary trainings from the racial healing handbook. The content from the Racial Healing Handbook. The contents were not secret, the book on which they are based is available on Amazon. The author is a respected academic. The training was not mandatory. Hundreds of teachers participated voluntarily.”
The district further responded to the allegations that they coerced teachers into attending the training and admitting they are racist when SDUSD Board Vice President Richard Barrera appeared on “San Diego this Morning,” Monday, Dec. 7.
“That was just completely wrong,” Barrera told KUSI News. “I don’t know that many people read the New York Post for accuracy, so this was just a silly article, but the serious … and more important set of issues really relate to how as a school system, we are confronting generations of practices that have led our students of color to have worse experiences than white students … and we’ve made a commitment as a school system that we’re going to confront this in an effort to become an anti-racist school system.”
Rufo’s post was a scathing critique of the training. In it, he noted a hefty 47 percent of students in the district were failing their classes and said a mandatory white privilege training wouldn’t change that. He also tweeted: “Teaching ‘white fragility’ will do nothing to help students improve their academic abilities — it will only serve activist teachers who want to shift the blame to ‘systemic racism.’”
However, a district spokeswoman struck a tone similar to Marten and Barrera’s in a statement to the Post.
“We are a majority-minority district with a majority white teacher workforce. The ability to hold honest conversations about race with grace is important, which is why we offered the training and why so many teachers elected to enroll,” the spokesperson said.