A Hamilton Southeastern Schools parent is calling for the replacement of HSE Supt. Allen Bourff.
HSE parent Amber Welch launched a change.org petition shortly after an email from Bourff to district staff referred to Black Lives Matter as a political movement.
“The Superintendent of my children’s school district, Dr. Allen Bourff, recently sent a letter to staff with regards to their Black History Month curriculum. He asked teachers to treat the Black Lives Matter movement as a ‘political issue,’ and to ‘teach it without advancing it or promoting your personal views,’” the petition stated. “The Black Lives Matter movement is based on the idea that Black people deserve safety and happiness. Their lives should matter just like those of white people. There is nothing political about valuing human life, and someone who disagrees with that should not be teaching our children. We’re asking our school district to replace Superintendent Bourff with someone who values HSE’s Black families just as much as our white families.”
Bourff wrote the email to HSE faculty Feb. 8. In the email, Bourff wrote that he heard from several parents who were concerned that HSE was advancing the cause of Black Lives Matter, “a political movement within the country.”
“They contend that their children are being indoctrinated rather than taught and that this effort has been a distraction from the academic purpose of school,” the email stated. “Where is the line between teaching about a political movement and promoting that political movement? Before we go forward, let us suspend the argument that Black Lives Matter is a social issue, or concept rather than a political movement. If we can accept for the sake of discussion that it is a political issue, then my question takes on a great deal of significance, because as school officials we cannot expose our politics, and we cannot advance a political cause through our work with students.”
Bourff also stated that in order to teach students the origins of a political cause, students must explore social concepts and events that brought the cause forward. He references several educational lessons where students learn about women’s suffrage, the Abolitionist movement, immigration, abortion, drug abuse and environment preservation.
“Academic knowledge is crystalized when it can be applied to issues, events, or causes beyond the classroom. One of the purposes of academic preparation in the public schools is to equip students to assume their place as citizens in their community, as well as the world. We are confident that our students will become contributing citizens of the world, and preparing them by examining political issues is but one means of preparing them for their role. But again, I raise the question of where that line is between teaching and promoting.”
Bourff listed several strategies teachers could follow when it comes to teaching about political issues, and he referenced an EdWeek article discussing politics in the classroom.
“It is not our place as educators to advance political causes. I said at the onset of this message that there is disagreement as to whether Black Lives Matter is a social issue or political issue,” Bourff stated in the email. “It is clear that many have moved it to the political arena and contend that teachers should not be promoting it. I am requesting that if you work with the topic, treat it as a political issue, and as you do with other political issues, teach it without advancing it or promoting your personal views.”
A response to the letter was subsequently published the following day on Feb. 9 clarifying that the humanity of any individual would not be debated at HSE.
“We have emphasized that Black Lives Matter, and this remains an emphasis in our equity work as we move towards creating and sustaining safe places for our students to learn and teachers to teach,” Bourff stated in the second letter. “The intent of yesterday’s letter to the faculty was designed to provide instructional strategies to discuss and teach Black Lives Matter, one of the most significant issues of our time. I understand that the impact was hurtful, and for that I apologize. The letter was designed to provide guidance for teachers to lead these discussions and to assist students as they develop their own positions on this important social issue.”
The second letter stated that Bourff was not requesting teachers to abandon their passion for a social cause or that social issues shouldn’t be discussed.
“On the contrary, I am requesting that we affirm publicly through our instructional practices that Black Lives Matter, that all humans have value, and that we stand in solidarity against injustice, racism, and violence, at all times. When that affirmation is challenged by those who contend that we have overstepped our mission, I will be able to say that our attention has been on the development of thoughtful processes enabling our students to positively influence their community,” the letter stated.
HSE Board of School Trustees President Janet Pritchett read a statement at the Feb. 10 school board meeting on the topic as well.
“We are committed to uniting and not further dividing our school community. We thank every student, parent, and stakeholder who has written to us expressing both compliments and concerns regarding your child’s educational experience and your expectations in HSE,” the statement read. “Like any community, district leadership is not a monolith. We share different perspectives, ideas, personal values and strategies for how to advance HSE Schools. We have and will make mistakes both individually and collectively. However, we are united in demonstrating leadership by role modeling how to learn from mistakes and being as transparent as possible.”
Welch asked others to sign her petition if they believed HSE students should receive an education on truth and justice and that Bourff was the wrong person for the job. As of Feb. 11, more than 2,100 people had signed the petition.
“The problems we are facing in our nation are due to the ugliness of racism, and we have to stand together in unity to make change. We want better for our community. It’s time for Superintendent Bourff to go,” the petition stated. “While he is retiring soon, we need to make it very clear to the board and administrators that we will not stand for another superintendent that holds the same racist values that Dr. Bourff must in order to have sent the message he did.”
The petition requested that a new HSE superintendent be a person of higher character and preferably a person of color.
Hamilton Southeastern Schools published the second letter and Pritchett’s statement in their entirety on its Facebook page. To read the letter and statement in their entirety, visit Hamilton Southeastern Schools on Facebook. For more about the petition, visit change.org/p/hse-school-board-black-lives-matter-is-not-political.