A special education teacher in Michigan resigned after she says district officials balked at her plans to discuss diversity and race topics in the classroom.
Katelyne Thomas taught first through fifth grade students for three years, but her last day was Friday.
Mason Public Schools, located in south-central Michigan, denied muzzling Thomas, and said the material she suggested using in class had not been vetted and she was provided alternate material.
In January, Thomas suggested for Black History Month, the district could incorporate material provided by Black Lives Matter at School, a nationwide coalition advocating racial justice in education.
The group urged educators across the country to use the first week of February to stress different topics each day, including restorative justice, diversity and globalism, trans and queer affirming, intergenerational Black families and Black villages and being unapologetically Black.
Thomas made the suggestion in an email to the Mason Board of Education, the superintendent, as well as her bosses: the special education director and the school principal.
"In the email was a direct link to Black Lives Matter at School, the organization, and I decided that there's some really great resources in there, I would think it would be a really positive thing," she said. "If Mason Public Schools would stand behind this big of an action, it would be a very powerful statement to our community and to all the stakeholders involved."
But Thomas said the idea was quickly shot down by officials in the district, where state data shows about 2% of students and 1% of staffers are Black.
She said she was ordered to attend a meeting with her bosses where she was verbally reprimanded for violating the district's policy on controversial topics, which defines them as "a topic on which opposing points of view have been promulgated by responsible opinion."
The policy allows them to be discussed in classes providing that the topic is "related to the instructional goals of the course of study and level of maturity of the students," and "does not tend to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view."
Mason Public Schools Superintendent Ronald Drzewicki declined to address Thomas' resignation but denied that she was precluded from discussing diversity and inclusion in the classroom. He said in a statement that the district reviews all curricula before approving them for classroom use.
"That process takes time and must be followed to verify accuracy and consider the age-appropriate nature of the content before information is shared with students," Drzewicki said. "To say the district would deny a staff member the opportunity to discuss diversity in the classroom is simply not true.”
Drzewicki said the district provides Black history resources to teachers.
"All classroom teachers were encouraged to use the resources to supplement curriculum as appropriate," he said. "No staff member was denied or told not to use these district-provided materials to teach about Black History Month, or diversity, equity and inclusion."
Thomas said the information she forwarded wasn't controversial.
"Within the resources that I sent, it focuses on things like Black women and multigenerational families," she said "It's not screaming Black Lives Matter and I think that's where they got nervous."
Among the lesson plans suggested by the BLM at Schools website for elementary school students are:
Paper plate portraits: Students would draw a picture of themselves on one side of the plate to show how people will see them. On the other side, they write how they perceive themselves and list things about them that might not be visible to others.
Activism: Students study the history of activism, learn about sit-ins, walkouts, boycotts, rallies and letter-writing campaigns. Then they work in groups to script and act out a specific act of resistance.
Gender stereotypes: Children will use creative, dramatic expression to consider not only the roots of gender stereotypes, but also their consequences and strategies for counteracting them, with emphasis on Queer Affirming, Trans Affirming and Collective Value.
The website said the program was first presented in Seattle in 2016 and spread to other cities around the country.
Thomas, who is white, said diversity is a crucial issue to her personally. Her husband is Black and they have biracial children.
She has seen intolerance in the community, including being approached in a grocery store once by someone who asked why she was "crossbreeding" her children.
"People are aware that these issues exist in the community and nothing is done about it in the schools," she said.
She submitted her resignation Feb. 12.In her resignation, she urged the district to "prioritize diversity and inclusivity at all levels."
"My values and integrity as a person do not align with this district or the policies and practices currently in place," she wrote in her resignation. "Denying students, particularly students of color, within the emotionally impaired classroom opportunities to learn about diversity, equity, and current events is a shameful and unacceptable directive."
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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: BLM at School: Michigan teacher resigns after district denies proposal