Two Peoria mothers were stunned last week, when their act of kindness was met with hate and vitriol from numerous teachers, including some who claim to actively “teach kindness.”
Heather Rooks, a mother of four children in the Peoria Unified School District, and Devon Updegraff Day, a mother of 3 children who no longer attend the District’s schools, never imagined that delivering dozens of donuts to teachers across the District would force them to file a police report.
Learning loss spurred action
The two women formed West Valley Parents Uniting last year, in the wake of draconian COVID-19 mitigation measures that left many children behind from learning loss. The women then upped their game by filing enough signatures to qualify to be on the ballot for two seats on the District’s Governing Board.
Both women support teachers and bought dozens of Dunkin Donuts as thank you’s to district teachers, to mark the start of the school year. They also made sure they did it as members of West Valley Parents Uniting, not as candidates for school board, to make sure rules were followed and there wouldn’t even be the appearance of electioneering.
In a similar effort the previous week, members of West Valley Parents Uniting volunteered to paint a “Zen” room for teachers at Zuni Hills without incident.
But something about the donut delivery stirred up a disturbing spree of hate towards the two generous moms. Their haters grabbed their West Valley Parents Uniting Facebook photos of the act of kindness and covered them in swastikas, and some left threatening hateful messages for the two women, leaving them in fear for them safety and the safety of their families. Upon advice from professionals, the two women filed a report with the Peoria Police Department.
The two women, who have grown somewhat accustomed to attacks from militant progressives, were both concerned at the ramping up of rhetoric and increasing attacks on their families by District staff and other parents.
This is not an outlier
From sharing private health information about students, to giving advice on how to find a pesky parent’s home address for the purposes of harassment, the “haters” gather on a private Facebook page, “Peoria Drives Change.” to complain about parents. Because Rooks and Udegraff-Day are acquainted with a member of the group, they have been alerted to posts that cause serious concern.
In one instance, a member of the group, Melissa Ewing, who is a substitute teacher at Vistancia Elementary and is also running for the Governing Board, shared private student information about Rooks’ children. “… just an FYI,” Ewing wrote, “HR kids present very different in the classroom and at school to how she describes their needs in public. Take all that she says with a grain of salt. Most all the reported “problems/special needs” arouse during COVID at the time that kids were being required to wear masks. Do some research on her and you will find when she had problems with school or didn’t like the answers she went to the media.”
Sharing information like this is a violation of FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law that protects students’ privacy. The sharing of information like this to persons not employed by the District would not only be a legal violation, but also a tremendous ethical breach.
Another example involves Suzanne Yee, a former teacher at Vistancia Elementary. Yee, a member of the “Peoria Drives Change” page complained, “All of Heather’s kids’ teachers have to give her all their lesson plans and resources for her to look at beforehand for her approval.”
That statement, while not a violation, reveals the prevailing attitude of group members more than anything else, according to other educators. The idea that an engaged parent wanting to see what their children are studying is considered a positive sign by quality teachers. Yee and her ilk considering it to be a nuisance and a negative speaks volumes about their lack of regard for parents in general.
What’s even more astounding is that some members of the “Peoria Drives Change” group are, or have been, officials in the District, including two past Peoria School Board members, Monica Martinez and Kathy Knecht.
The fact that employees would not only violate the public trust, but the trust they demand from parents has both Peoria Unified Governing Board member Rep. Beverly Pingerelli and a neighboring school district governing board member, Dawn Densmore, deeply disappointed.
In one of the most unsettling exchanges, Josh Gray, a parent of a child in the District, was applauded by Peoria Unified Teachers for being in “stalker mode” when he shared Rooks’ address and phone numbers with the group while discussing whether or not to disrupt a private meeting she was having at her home.
The meeting in question was nothing more than a get together of members of West Valley Parents Uniting.
Gray also made his presence known to Updegraff Day. “I heard you had a meeting today at Heather Rooks house. Tell her I say Hi. I’m sure I’ll see you around.”
The parents said his “creepy” behavior forced them to cancel the parent meeting in order to deny him an opportunity to potentially engage in more aggressive behavior.
“I am very concerned for my family’s safety after everything. I am shocked and furious that my children’s private educational information was shared on a Facebook Group by a substitute teacher at my kids’ school,” Rooks told the Arizona Daily Independent. “I am still trying to process that a substitute teacher violated my children’s protected information. These members of the Facebook group threatened to come to my home and discussed private things about my children’s needs from their school. I will be filing with the Arizona State Board of Education and Arizona Attorney General office on FERPA violations. How can parents be ok with a teacher sharing private information about their child on a social media group? Is Melissa Ewing going to share about other Peoria Unified parent’s children’s private information? How can we trust her as a substitute teacher? I am deeply shaken by all of this.”
The irony is rich
One can find some humor in the fact that a “kindness” vendor is ironically part of the mean girl crowd in the Peoria Drives Change group. Donna Bartos, CEO of Bloom365, sells her organization as one that brings “awareness to domestic abuse/violence against teens” and brings “love 365 days a year.”
The kindness and empathy programs that battle “toxic masculinity,” domestic violence, and bullying come with a hefty price tag.
In Bartos case, she displays complete contempt for any parent who does not buy into “white privilege” and other pop culture takes on justice. She engages in conversations in which parents are accused of being “off their rockers,” and “fucking nuts.” Her hyperbole appears to fuel bizarre conversations, including one in which she goes so far as to allege that her daughter is “likely more at risk here in N Peoria where adults promote their AR15 gun ownership rights on shirts, car stickers, flags, etc.,” than in South Peoria.
Bartos’ disrespect for parents and contempt for those with different lifestyles is clearly evident in one thread in which she claimed that the District “needs to prioritize cultivating a culture of empathy, respect and acceptance for all students over pleasing parents.”
As unhappy as she appears to be with the majority of parents in the District, Bartos seems dug in and is working to “elect progressive board members.”
The ranks of West Valley Uniting are growing which members believe is evidence that parents are waking up to progressive militants like Bartos, and hope is growing that Bartos’ effort will be futile.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article erroneously reported that Ms. Yee was currently a substitute teacher in the Peoria Unified School District.