School board president apologizes for comparing blonde hair to racial injustice

Julie Doane, the school board president of Lee's Summit R-7 School District in Missouri, apologized for making controversial comments. (YouTube/Lee's Summit R-7 School District)

A Missouri school board president indicated that blonde women have similar hardships as people of color, offending education advocates and parents.

At a May 16th meeting, Lee's Summit R-7 School District board president Julie Doane expressed her opinion to a consultant pitching an equity program for teachers. Lee’s Summit superintendent Dennis Carpenter is advocating for the program to help narrow the achievement gap within his district where children of color reflect 25 percent of the student body.

The program from Education Equity would form diversity lessons, train teachers to stop racial stereotypes, and promote female participation in STEM courses.

Company representative Phil Hunsberger explained the role of empathy, social justice, and a willingness to examine white privilege within the context of learning. “I, as a white man, have been socialized in a particular way,” said Hunsberger. “And some of that socialization in me has produced some unconscious bias. That’s not something we should be afraid of. That’s something we probably should explore.”

But board president Doane wasn’t sold— later in the meeting, she said, “I just don't like the word privilege, because I have privileges. If someone is going to hire a female then sorry buddy you aren't getting the job. Or if they are looking for ‘a Spanish,’ they might choose J-Lo over me, I don't know. So…is that part of your teachings?”

“Sure. Absolutely,” answered Hunsberger. “…I’ve worked hard and I’ve also grown up in a system that gave me privileges because I was white…”

“I never wake up in the morning and think about being a white man,” he added. “I never drive my car and think about the cop behind me and get anxious about what might happen to me.”

Doane interrupted, “Honey, I’m blonde. I do!”

In the end, the board voted 4-3 to reject Carpenter’s $97K equity initiative, but approved $650K for literary resources, according to the Kansas City Star.

Calls for Doane to resign for her “unacceptable” comments came right away.

“What kind of message are they sending?” one parent said after the meeting, reported the Kansas City Star. “What do they think, children of color are going to stop moving to the district? This district is only going to get more diverse. This is a slap in the face to all the families who have moved here for a better district. This is horrible. They are going to run the first African-American superintendent out of here. This is bad. They don’t want to say this district is racist. Well, this proves it is.”

According to television station KSHB, Doane apologized in an emailed newsletter, writing, "I would like to apologize for my comments at the Board of Education meeting last week. I'm sorry for the insensitive manner in which they were made. I look forward to learning more about how we can all work together moving forward in this conversation."

Carpenter, the first African-American superintendent in the district, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that expenses weren’t the problem. “Our school district has a $250 million budget — we were asking for a $97k investment in professional development.”

The superintendent was hired in 2017, right before the district underwent an academic review that showed black, Hispanic, and special-education students weren’t doing as well as white children. Having found success with equity training in his former district, Carpenter was eager to introduce it at Lee’s Summit.

After the proposal was rejected, Carpenter spoke. “I have sat with this district and tried to work with this district,” he said. “I think if you don’t have a leader you can trust, I think you need to find someone you can trust. … Every piece I put forth in this district to try and assure equity, it was met with opposition… “

On Wednesday night, the school board held an emergency meeting to discuss their negative votes, such as lack of evidence for the program and time consumption. However, Carpenter suggested that board members were intentionally undermining the value of equity training.

Doane did not respond to inquiries from Yahoo Lifestyle.

Hunsberger tells Yahoo Lifestyle that Doane’s comments were basic self-preservation. “The best friend of oppression is silence,” he says. “How do we interrupt the silence? Coming to grips with the fact that one can be successful and benefit from a system that favors white people.”

Doane’s comments, says Hunsberger, were a reason to “dig deeper.”

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