Across the country, parents who are trying to discover what their children are learning have had roadblocks tossed in their way by school administrators who fear disinfecting sunlight. From demanding outrageous fees for public records, to denying the very existence of public records, school administrators are showing a remarkable level of creativity and duplicity in their efforts to keep parents in the dark.
Every step of the way, Heather Rooks, a Peoria Unified School District parent, has shown an equally remarkable determination to get to the truth. Her mission, like so many of her fellow parents, is to identify and remove – root and branch – the destructive Critical Race Theory-based (CRT) curriculum that is causing so much division and distrust.
Rooks, with the help of Peoria Unified School District Governing Board member and State Representative Beverly Pingerelli, has made great progress despite the District administration’s dishonesty. In August 2021, the two women managed to expose the lengths to which district administrators and staff would go to hide materials associated with the CRT-based curriculum in a newly created American Studies course.
Now, not only has Rooks been instrumental is proving to parents and the public that the district officials lied when they claimed the materials did not exist, but she has come up with a smoking gun of sorts.
Time and time again, district officials have denied the influence of controversial works like The 1619 Project on classroom teaching. In fact, Superintendent Dr. Jason Reynolds made a public statement on April 8th, 2021 emphatically denying that CRT was being used in district schools.
However, thanks to a public records request which the district took months to respond to, Peoria parents now know that The 1619 Project has not just influenced materials, but is itself part of the materials students will be taught.
The inclusion of The 1619 Project is revealed in an email from Jennifer Mundy, the K-12 Social Studies Curriculum Coach for the district, to two Arizona Department of Education staff members. She wrote in part:
“I was in full support when it first came out but as I read conflicting views about it, I do think there are historians who have valid concerns. I’m not convinced though that those concerns outweigh the value of truth presented in The 1619 Project. What are your thoughts on it? I will add that another teacher reached out a while back and shared a specific lesson from The 1619 Project that she wanted to use. She wanted my opinion and to know what the district’s stance was. The specific lessons she shared with me was fantastic so I concurred that she should absolutely use it.”
It is undisputed that The 1619 Project, a product of the New York Times Magazine, is a work of fiction often times presented as historical fact. In fact, Nikole Hannah-Jones, the curator of the Project and author of the lead essay won a Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2020.
The Heritage Foundation describes the work as a “political project riddled with factual errors and its theories on capitalism should not be conflated as an accurate historical account.”
According to the Foundation, the Times sold out its initial print run and then raised funds to publish an additional 200,000 copies for free distribution to schools and community organizations. The Pulitzer Center has not released official numbers regarding school districts that have adopted The 1619 Project curriculum, but a May 2020 update noted that 4,500 classrooms have used the materials, with five school systems—Buffalo, New York; Chicago, Illinois; Washington, DC; Wilmington, Delaware; and Winston-Salem, North Carolina—implementing it “at broad scale.”
“If the Superintendent is making statements that CRT is not taught in Peoria and his curriculum coach has already been giving the ok to use it, what does that say about the person who is supposed to be a leader in this District? In my opinion Jennifer Mundy needs to be fired for her actions and Dr. Reynolds doesn’t appear to have the leadership characteristics required to take action and protect our kids. With his contract up right now, the board needs to consider what we have discovered through the public records requests, and reconsider whether we can truly trust what Dr. Jason Reynolds is saying to the community. He must show parents that his statements actually mean something. Our concerns cannot be brushed off and we won’t be admonished by the board and told it is a personnel matter anymore,” Rooks told the Arizona Daily Independent.