Hot-button issue overshadows district’s annual meeting

Critics and supporters of a Burlington elementary school teacher – whose recent lesson on protests for racial equality touched off a firestorm of debate – are expected to attend tonight’s meeting of the Burlington Area School District Board of Education.

The meeting is scheduled to begin sometime after 7:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 14, at Burlington High School, 400 McCanna Parkway. The regular School Board meeting will be preceded at 7 p.m. by the district’s annual meeting during which attendees – acting as electors – will be allowed to comment on the proposed budget and vote to adopt the tax levy to support the budget for this school year.

While annual meetings are often lightly attended, this year’s will likely get an attendance boost from those wishing to comment on the controversy over the social studies lesson taught Aug. 27 by Melissa Statz, who was hired Aug. 21 to fill late vacancy in fourth grade at Cooper Elementary School.

Statz’s hiring is among several staff appointments that are scheduled for consideration at the School Board meeting – which will begin once the annual meeting is wrapped up.

While there is no other agenda item specific to Statz or the recent controversy, residents will have an opportunity to speak out during the public comments portion of the meeting. People wishing to speak will be limited to three minutes each.

Parents and others have called for Statz to be fired. Statz said she and her family has been threatened and harassed in the wake of the lesson. In recent days, however, supporters of her actions made their cases on social media and other online platforms.

Statz said the controversial lesson on current events began organically when she noticed her students discussing the racial unrest, protesting and violence in Kenosha.

The mostly 9-year-olds were curious about the protests and were asking questions, she said. Statz decided to read a book that explained what racism is and also hand out a worksheet, which touched on the protests, systemic racism, George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, among other issues regarding social justice and equality.

“The students were discussing the protests in Kenosha on their own and asking questions,” Statz said. “I decided instead of continually talking about it, we would have a classroom discussion. I wish I had not used that specific piece of paper that has made parents so angry because that is such a very small portion of the insightful conversation that took place between the students about racism in our country and how they choose to treat one another in a daily basis.”


Parents object

Amy Schneider, who has a son in Statz’s classroom, said the lesson went too far, contending it forced Statz’s ideological beliefs upon the students. Statz is a member of the Burlington Coalition for Dismantling Racism and participated in local protests this summer.

“Schools don’t teach white supremacy, or atheist ways, or political propaganda,” Schneider said. “They’re not going to teach (Black Lives Matter), either.

“No teacher has the right to do that here in BASD. It is indoctrination,” she added. “Racism isn’t acceptable in schools. Any teacher that has made it her point to share her ideologies with her students has failed as a teacher.”

Statz said the lesson was about the recent events locally and nationwide, not her ideology.

“People believe I was trying to push an agenda when really I was trying to facilitate a dialogue between students,” she said.

In a letter to parents, BASD Superintendent Stephen Plank said the use of the lesson materials was a choice made by Statz and wasn’t part of the district’s “approved curriculum.”

“While we are committed to creating more opportunities for conversation, we seek to do this from a neutral perspective,” Plank wrote. “We have reminded staff to use supplemental resources that are age and developmentally appropriate without religious or political influence.”

      For full coverage of Monday’s School Board meeting see the Sept. 17 edition of the Burlington Standard Press. 

Correspondent Mike Ramczyk contributed to this story.