By Corinne Murdock |
The mother and father of a middle school student, Amy and Shawn Souza, filed a statement of allegations against Peoria Unified School District (PUSD) with the Arizona State Board of Education for attempting to hide reportedly politicized curriculum from them and ignoring their opt-out requests. According to emails shared with AZ Free News, PUSD Director of Social Studies Curriculum and Instructional Specialist Jennifer Mundy suggested that the teacher and school in question, 7th grade social studies teacher Holli Trentowski at Sunset Heights Elementary, disguise or manipulate the curriculum on its face so that inquisitive parents like them wouldn’t look too closely. Mundy deferred to Marla Woolsey, the district’s Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction, for final say on the matter.
“[Trentowski’s] titles could be toned down a bit. For example, instead of saying ‘Science behind mob mentality,’ she could say ‘The science behind the KKK’s behavior’ or just put Tuesday’s title on Wednesday as well. I’m assuming that she’s teaching about the Ku Klux Klan on Tuesday and following that up with how it’s possible that people could commit the atrocities they did toward African Americans in the South during Reconstruction (and for a century and a few decades afterwards). If kids are thinking, they’ll [sic] on there [sic] own to take it to what happened this past summer as well as what happened at the Capitol a few weeks ago. Analyzing connections and explaining the multiple causes and effects of events past and present are both standards in social studies. The problem does not lie in what Holli is teaching (assuming I’m correct about the path she’s taking this week).”
According to the Souzas’ complaint, PUSD officials attempted to pull a workaround as soon as the Souzas first began to communicate concerns with them about their daughter’s 7th-grade social studies curriculum. Sunset Heights Elementary Principal Rae Conelley even complained about having to meet with the Souzas to discuss their concerns frequently: she stated that she was “going to lose [her] mind.” Conelley also speculated to Mundy and Woolsey that Trentowski was “baiting” the Souzas with her curriculum. “I am going to lose my mind,” wrote Conelley. “If I am off track in my guidance to [Trentowski] please let me know. I almost feel like she’s baiting them now but I’m the one who’s spending time I don’t have meeting with them.”
The Souzas asserted that Trentowski’s curriculum was “developmentally inappropriate and inherently political.” For a section on work conditions in the early 20th century, one of the assigned resources was a graphic, hour-long documentary by PBS on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. The 1911 tragedy claimed nearly 150 lives, most of whom were young women and girls.
Despite Trentowski promising to give the Souzas’ daughter an alternative text and place to work, she reportedly gave her the disputed assignment and had her complete it.
The entire ordeal caused the Souzas to remove their children from PUSD. Last week, the Souzas appeared before the PUSD governing board to warn parents and confront the board members about their experience. “We hear all the time at these meetings and from district employees that if you don’t like [the curriculum] opt them out,” said Amy. “We have lost all faith in [the] Peoria Unified School District having the best interest of our kids at heart.”
Free to Learn – a nonprofit organization that advocates for parental rights in education and the removal of political agendas from schools – assisted the Souzas in filing their complaint. In a statement, President Alleigh Marré said that the Souzas’ action should empower other parents.
“By shining a light on this incident with their complaint, Amy and Shawn are setting an example for other parents in Arizona and around the country as they pursue a quality education for their children free of activism,” said Marré. “If parents work within the parameters of the school and follow all the rules, they should see results. Instead, what we saw in Peoria was deceit and an intentional push to keep parents in the dark. At Free to Learn, we want to empower these parents and give them a platform to advocate for their children when all else fails.”