Parents challenge “agenda” of All School Seminar
Parents take to social media and news sources to debate Seminar Day
February 10, 2017
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New Trier’s all-school seminar day coming up on Feb. 28th, about civil rights, has gotten the attention of Breitbart, Illinois Family Institute, and even the Chicago Tribune as controversy over the content of the day raises concerns for some parents.
A parent Facebook group was created called “New Trier Parents Seminar Day Review” and changed to “Seminar Day Discussion.”
The group was public but is now a closed group with 159 members. According to the Facebook page, the group caters to “people who care about the Seminar Day Program at New Trier.”
The Illinois Family Institute published an article written by Laurie Higgins on Jan 10. headlined, “New Trier High School Avoids Diversity Like the Plague.”
In this article, Higgins provided summaries of the seminars, along with a section she called, “What Can Parents Do?” In that section, Higgins advised parents to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the names of teachers leading seminars.
Higgins said this would help disrupt the day because “leftist teachers depend on their anonymity, autonomy, and absence of accountability to exploit their positions.”
Ten FOIA requests were made to the school from seven individuals. Each request had several individual requests within them, totaling over 50 requests, according to Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations at Northfield Campus, Christopher Johnson.
On Feb. 3, the Chicago Tribune also published an article about the seminar day, headlined, “New Trier High School parents debate planned civil rights seminar.”
Members of the Facebook group expressed concerns about students being manipulated and having one-sided viewpoints forced onto them, but many members wanted change made to the day rather than getting rid of the day altogether.
Marianne Holzhall, a member of the group, said, “The goal should be to have the students walk out thinking, ‘What skills can I use to solve this problem?’ And not ‘I am a bad person because of my racial and socioeconomic classification.’”
Other parents felt the day was a good opportunity. Member Heather Pigott said, “You are not giving our students enough credit. Those of you who feel this seminar is too one-sided have surely shared your feelings/ positions with your children– send your kid to seminar day and let them bring that perspective into the discussion. The whole point of the day is to get students thinking and talking about race.”
Senior Jimmy Lipsey expressed similar opinions to Pigott when he signed up for the Microaggressions seminar because he didn’t agree with it.
Lipsey said, “I’m interested to hear what they have to say and I think I’m gonna bring an opposing perspective to that, which might not be exactly what the day is for. But if they’re making me come to school, I’ll do with it what I please.”
Assistant Superintendent Tim Hayes said that he has heard more positive feedback about the day from parents than negative. He also said that teachers and staff had heard from students that “this is a topic that they’re interested in, but it’s very difficult to talk about it because what you see in the media and online is when adults start to talk about it. They generally just start arguing with one another and there’s not a lot of discussion actually happening.”
Junior Liam Murphy attended half the day last year, but left early. He said the day was “beneficial in some aspects, but to have an entire day dedicated to it seemed a little extreme to me.”
He said it would have been better to have a variety of opinions and to have these topics integrated into regular school days.
Senior Callie Fauntleroy said she was one of the first girls in her advisory to register, but she also sent an email to the parentsofnewtrier.org in response to posts on the Facebook page. She has yet to hear back yet.
She said, “I was very shocked and pretty disgusted and altogether ashamed that people would protest the seminar day.”
The website, Parents of New Trier, that Fauntleroy emailed was established this year. The subtitle of the website is “Because New Trier’s All School Seminar Day is Biased, Unbalanced, Divisive, and Costly.”
The website advises people to write to the board, attend board meetings, and suggest alternative presenters. There’s a page dedicated to panelists suggested to create a more balanced point of view for the day. There’s also a link to a petition to “Balance – or else suspend – New Trier’s Seminar Day on race.” The number of signatures and names of signers is not open for the public to view.
Another petition to show support for the seminar day was also made. This petition has accumulated 2,306 signatures.
Fauntleroy stated, “By wanting to get rid of this day, you might as well have said ‘let’s make a petition to rid the school of the civil rights movement.”