When the Manhattan-Ogden school board in April voted 4-1 to purchase a diversity training program for teachers, the discussion lasted less than five minutes.
The measure was one of many agenda items at the end of a long meeting.
The board later rescinded the purchase, effectively killing the matter. And that might have been the end of it, but for the throngs of citizens who have spoken during subsequent meetings. Their concerns — that the board rushed through a vote and that the program increases racial divisions — have resurrected the issue, which it now seems will be a significant part of the upcoming school board election. Ten people have now filed to run for three open positions, and some candidates have said their reasons for running have to do with not liking the “direction” the board is going.
Because of that, The Mercury is revisiting in detail that first meeting when the subject arose.
The item to approve a virtual diversity training for teachers came under new business nearly two hours into the board meeting. It was one of many items on the agenda (others included masonry repairs, roof replacements and dyslexia training), and the board at that point in the night was trying to move through them quickly.
Board members Kristin Brighton, Darrell Edie, Curt Herrman, Karla Hagemeister and Katrina Lewison were present. Jurdene Coleman, Brandy Santos were absent. Brighton was leading the meeting.
The measure was a request to approve a virtual diversity training program from the company better lesson for $61,000.
Herrman made the motion to accept the purchase. Hagemeister seconded the motion. Then Brighton opened the floor for public comment.
In recent weeks, 60-70 people have attended meetings to say their piece about the Better Lesson curriculum. But on April 21, Michael Walter of Manhattan was the lone member of the community to comment on the subject.
“This is a fast-moving train,” Walter said, referring to the efficiency with which the board was moving through the agenda. Walter thanked the board for its service and praised the district, which he said had educated his children. He spoke briefly about the Better Lesson curriculum.
“I believe it to be a form of critical race theory, which is a hot topic. But as I was going through the reading, I sensed that the program would expedite a changed sense of social justice, which may be needed. I also sense there could be a recast of our founding fathers, perhaps our Constitution. I believe that the end result could be divisive for our students.”
Walter, who likely had sat through two hours of the meeting for his opportunity to speak, asked the board to take more time on the matter.
“I would encourage time for a deeper discussion of this proposal,” he said. “I would encourage discussion of alternative education in civics.”
Edie was the only board member to comment.
“I actually was reading through this whole thing, and as I was reading through it, I had concerns and yet things I liked. I really felt we were pushing things through on this one a little too fast,” he said. “So because of that, I was going to vote against it, and still plan to, so that it is brought up back in public discussion in two weeks. That way it will be in consent form. I hit a couple pieces of it I was concerned about.”
Edie didn’t elaborate on his concerns, and as The Mercury reported earlier this week, it seems that the board had very limited information about the Better Lesson program. Members said what they received were a few pages in the meeting packet. Those pages showed a checklist teachers can use to show the diversity in characters in their reading material.
Edie’s was the lone dissenting vote on the subject.
Just a little earlier in the meeting, Edie had applauded a program the board approved for working with the families of immigrant students.
He said he was worried when he saw that the company was based in Minneapolis and Portland, but then liked that it taught how cultural awareness affects people as children.
“I really felt like this was a lot better than I thought it was and really brings out people’s awareness of themselves,” Edie said, and he voted in favor of that program.