When I received an email from Nathalie Henderson, chief schools officer of Indianapolis Public Schools, demanding that I and other administrators lie to our parents and teachers about teaching critical race theory, I was amazed at the boldness in her request that I be dishonest.

At the time, I was the science coordinator for Indianapolis Public Schools.

Henderson instructed us, as fellow school system administrators, to tell parents that we weren’t teaching critical race theory, but just a form of “racial equity.” 

By dodging parents’ questions and misleading them with alternative terms deemed not upsetting, we were sheltering our inboxes from the disgust of parents, whose approval we didn’t concern ourselves with.

After a virtual meeting with critical race theory scholar Gloria Ladson-Billings in which I watched my colleagues laugh about teaching critical race theory and how proud they were of it, I decided that I’d had enough. 

The next morning, Nov. 4, 2021, I recorded and tweeted a video explaining exactly how Indianapolis Public Schools teaches critical race theory, cited my sources, and warned parents to “keep looking” whenever a public school administrator brushed off their concerns.

I was called a liar by Nikole Hannah-Jones, creator of The New York Times’ controversial 1619 Project. I was banned from entering any property of Indianapolis Public Schools for fear that I might “psychologically traumatize” fellow staff. And I eventually was fired by the school system.

I was told that I was imagining things, that critical race theory was taught only in graduate schools, and that school system administrators weren’t lying to parents.

Now many of those administrators, who I was assured never would lie to parents about what schools were teaching, have been exposed while admitting that they constantly mislead parents about what’s being taught in the classroom.

A recent hidden-camera investigation by Accuracy in Media, on which the organization reported Wednesday, revealed that principals and superintendents in Indiana knowingly and regularly obstruct curricular and pedagogical transparency by misleading parents with different terms for critical race theory and social and emotional learning so that parents won’t get upset. 

Brad Sheppard, an assistant superintendent at Elkhart (Indiana) Community Schools, told the investigators: “We just have to avoid the words, you know? The labels.”

Social and emotional learning, Sheppard said, “has become a bad phrase and we don’t openly use that phrase but we’re still doing it, so… I mean, just to avoid anything, I mean, we have not really been hit with it, but just to even avoid it.”

Critical race theory is a societal view stating that the cause of every historical event, the foundation of every system, and each facet of U.S. life is built upon white supremacy. Social and emotional learning is a style of education that encourages children to analyze and manipulate emotional responses based on a set of fluid values, often reflective of education philosopher John Dewey’s “Humanist Manifesto.”

Due to events such as the Indianapolis Public Schools’ exposure by Accuracy in Media, parents are now aware that school districts rebrand principles of critical race theory as “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” So other school districts also have begun avoiding labeling anything as DEI. 

Tracey Noe, assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction, and assessment for Indiana’s Goshen Community Schools, told Accuracy in Media’s investigators that administrators had renamed their “Equity and Inclusion Committee” a “work group,” explaining that “we just didn’t want to make a target of it.” 

It’s not hard to imagine why school district administrators who adhere to critical race theory and certain social and emotional learning styles are trying to hide these curricula and practices from parents: The content is very unpopular with parents.

Since Accuracy in Media published its video, Elkhart Community Schools’ Sheppard and Goshen Community Schools’ Noe have been placed on leave, pending an investigation.

The Goshen school district claims that Noe “misrepresented the district” with her statements. The Elkhart district hasn’t stated why it placed Sheppard on leave, but called on Accuracy in Media to release the entire video, sans editing, “in order for the full context to be understood.”

Penn High School, near South Bend, Indiana, was caught giving teachers a social and emotional learning lesson on “Racism and Anti-Racism” in early 2021, according to documents unearthed by Parents Defending Education. The lesson equated supporting former President Donald Trump, saying “MAGA,” and calling for detention of illegal immigrants with “Calls for Violence” and “Genocide.”

Northview Middle School, in Washington Township in Indianapolis, informed a woman that her son could not join an engineering program because he was “not a minority.” After some backlash, the school’s principal reluctantly informed the mother that her son could apply for the program (but did so after the application deadline had passed).

Parental dissatisfaction with diversity, equity, and inclusion programs led to the sweep of “pro-parent” school board candidates in 2022 at Hamilton Southeastern Schools in Fishers, Indiana. 

The election results followed a series of scandals in which Hamilton Southeastern Schools planned to punish students for “microaggressions,” spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on social and emotional learning surveys, and required teachers to participate in disturbingly discriminatory racial equity training sessions.

As additional public school districts—not just in Indiana, but across the United States—continue to be exposed for their strange fascination with critical race theory and other progressive education methods, I encourage parents to continue looking. Don’t take administrators’ word for it.

Every secret recording, email, document, assignment, training, and policy reinforces what parents have discovered post-COVID-19: Many administrators think they know better than parents and will ignore, obfuscate, and tell outright lies to continue their work.

My message remains the same since November 2021. When officials tell you critical race theory isn’t taught in our schools, they’re lying. Keep looking.

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