24 K-12 Schools Named Social Justice Beacons By Arizona’s Anti-Defamation League

24 K-12 Schools Named Social Justice Beacons By Arizona’s Anti-Defamation League

By Corinne Murdock |

Earlier this month, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of Arizona recognized 24 K-12 schools throughout the state as “No Place For Hate” (NPFH) participants.

There are four required steps to qualifying as a NPFH school: register, create a NPFH committee, sign the NPFH Pledge, and complete at least three school-wide NPFH activities. An additional recommended step for schools concerns engaging in “A World of Difference” anti-bias and allyship workshops.

Despite the ADL’s commitment to diversity and inclusivity, NPFH campaigns may alienate certain classes of students and educators — such as Christians.

According to the ADL, a valid NPFH committee “include[s] students, staff, administrators, and family members that reflect the diversity of the school community.” They are tasked with identifying bias and bullying within their school and host activities to right those identified wrongs. 

Variations of the required pledge exist, and they usually differ between elementary and middle or high schools. For elementary schools, one form of the pledge reads as follows:

I promise to do my best to treat everyone fairly. I promise to do my best to be kind to everyone — even if they are not like me. If I see someone being hurt or bullied, I will tell a teacher. Everyone should be able to feel safe and happy in school. I want our school to be No Place for Hate.

Most versions of the pledge for middle and high schools include more social justice concepts. One example is reproduced below:

I will seek to gain understanding of those who are different from myself. I will speak out against prejudice and discrimination. I will reach out to support those who are targets of hate. I will promote respect for people and help foster a prejudice-free school. I believe that one person can make a difference — no person can be an ‘innocent’ bystander when it comes to opposing hate. I recognize that respecting individual dignity and promoting inter-group harmony are the responsibilities of all students.

And another:

I pledge from this day forward to do my best to combat prejudice and to stop those who, because of hate or ignorance, would hurt anyone or violate their civil rights. I will try at all times to be aware of my own biases and seek to gain understanding of those who I perceive as being different from myself. I will speak out against all forms of prejudice and discrimination. I will reach out to support those who are targets of hate. I will think about specific ways my community members can promote respect for people and create a prejudice free zone. I firmly believe that one person can make a difference and that no person can be an “innocent” bystander when it comes to opposing hate. I recognize that respecting individual dignity, achieving equality and promoting intergroup harmony are the responsibilities of all people. By signing this pledge, I commit myself to creating a respectful community.

Valid NPFH activities that count toward the three needed to qualify the school must be preapproved by the national ADL and tackle bias, prejudice, stereotypes, discrimination, social justice, inclusion, diversity, name-calling, or bullying. 

The World of Difference workshops include programs for students titled “Becoming An Ally: Interrupting Name Calling and Bullying,” “Peer Leadership,” “Peer Training,” and “General Anti-Bias Training.” For the most part, each workshop engages in concepts like prejudice, bigotry, diversity, inclusivity, and equity. 

Those steps are required, but there are a plethora of other activities and workshops offered to educators and students vying for NPFH recognition. In June and July, the ADL is hosting a month-long “anti-bias” course for teachers to learn how to eliminate bias while making “equitable and inclusive classrooms.”

The 24 Arizona schools certified as NPFH schools were: C.I. Waggoner Elementary, Desert Meadows, Eagle Ridge Elementary School, Emerson School, Horizon Honors Elementary School, Whittier Elementary, Kyrene de las Manitas, Kyrene del Cielo, Kino Junior High School, Cocopah Middle School, Cooley Middle School, Desert Canyon Middle School, Greenway Middle School, Shea Middle School, Vista Verde Middle School, Dobson High School, Higley High School, Mountain View High School, North High School, Red Mountain High School, Verrado High School, Trailside Performing Arts Academy, New Way Academy, and Rancho Solano Preparatory School.

Centennial Middle School received an honorable mention. 

The 24 schools will receive a customized banner designating them as a NPFH school for this year.

Cocopah Middle School’s principal required teachers to attend a training on supporting and affirming LGBTQ+ lifestyles in children, and where they established a Gender-Sexuality Alliance (GSA) Club that won an award for coercing the district to allow students to replace their given, or “deadname,” with a preferred name matching their gender identity. GSAs may also stand for Gay-Straight Alliance.

There are over 1,800 schools nationwide who qualify as NPFH.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Surprise, Surprise! The Higley School District Scandal Has Been Largely Ignored by the Media

Surprise, Surprise! The Higley School District Scandal Has Been Largely Ignored by the Media

By the Free Enterprise Club |

Sometimes, it’s not just what the media says. It’s what they don’t say.

Last week, the Arizona Auditor General concluded its financial investigation into Higley Unified School District (HUSD). And the findings of the report are mind blowing.

The Auditor General found that HUSD’s former superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell, may have conspired with employees of Education Facilities Development Services (EFDS), along with Hunt & Caraway’s former president, to circumvent school district procurement rules to improperly award Higley’s $2,557,125 Project development services contract to EFDS.

But if you thought that was bad, there’s more. The report also alleges that Dr. Birdwell misused public monies when she authorized or caused the unlawful use of $6 million in restricted public funds toward construction of two new schools. And to top it all off, Dr. Birdwell, along with Gary Aller and Steven Nielsen from EFDS, appear to have concealed their wrongdoing by certifying false information on Higley records.

A State Grand Jury indicted Dr. Birdwell on 18 felony counts. In addition, Gary Aller, Steven Nielsen, and Kay Hartwell Hunnicutt (who shared a home and checking account with Dr. Birdwell) were indicted on three felony counts each…

>>> READ MORE >>>

Investigation Found Internal Controls Failed At Higley School District Due To Superintendent’s Misconduct

Investigation Found Internal Controls Failed At Higley School District Due To Superintendent’s Misconduct

By Terri Jo Neff |

An investigation by the Arizona Auditor General has led to criminal charges being filed earlier this month against several people involved with the building of two new schools for the Higley Unified School District in Gilbert, including the district’s former superintendent, it was announced late Thursday.

Angela Denise Birdwell was indicted July 13 by a state grand jury for 18 counts related to procurement fraud, misuse of public monies, fraudulent schemes and practices, conflict of interest, filing a false state tax return, fraudulent schemes and artifices, and conspiracy. She served as Higley’s superintendent from 2009 until her retirement in 2015.

“Public officials with oversight authority have a responsibility to properly manage the administration of money and property entrusted to them and must ensure that sufficient internal controls are designed and implemented to protect those assets,” according to the Auditor General’s report. “Nevertheless, a system of internal controls will not succeed when those in a position to oversee those operations are perpetrating unlawful behavior and concealing their misconduct.”

Among the more serious issues identified by the Auditor General was Birdwell’s possible misuse of public monies from December 2012 to November 2013 when she authorized or caused the unlawful use of $6 million in restricted public funds toward construction of two new schools in the Higley district, which serves about 10,000 PK-12 students.

Also indicted were Gary Aller and Steven Nielsen, both corporate officers of Educational Facilities Development Services (EFDS) which was awarded a $2.5 million project development service contract related to construction of the new schools. Investigators believe EFDS had access to “early and exclusive Project information” which provided the company an advantage over other prospective vendors.

Public records show Aller and Nielsen founded EFDS in 2012 just two weeks before the Higley District issued an RFP for project development services. The men are each charged with three felonies related to fraudulent schemes and practices, conspiracy, and fraudulent schemes and artifices. There is also an allegation Birdwell violated state procurement laws in connection to the EFDS contract.

“Dr. Birdwell was 1 of 3 selection committee members, and she evaluated EFDS with the only perfect score and recommended Higley award EFDS the Project development services contract, which the Higley Governing Board approved on July 12, 2012,” the report states.

Meanwhile, three felonies related to filing of a false state tax return were brought by the state grand jury against Kay Hartwell Hunnicutt, an attorney described in the Auditor General’s report as being a “close acquaintance” of Birdwell, with whom she shared a home as well as a checking account.

According to the Auditor General, Birdwell indirectly received or benefited from $43,000 paid by Hunt & Caraway Architects Ltd., which served as the district’s procurement advisor and was part of the EFDS development team. Hunt & Caraway, whose now deceased president was never registered in Arizona as an architect, issued checks to Hunnicutt or Hunnicutt’s law office, which were then deposited in a checking account held jointly by Birdwell and Hunnicutt.

Concerns have been rife for years about misconduct related to the school construction projects, according to State Rep. Jake Hoffman (R-LD12), who served as a Higley district board member from 2013 to 2015. Hoffman says he and another board member were criticized by Higley district administrators in response their attempts to look into concerns at the time.

“The level of apparent corruption is staggering and heartbreaking. I am proud to have actively fought against this abuse of power, misuse of taxpayer monies, and blatant disregard for the law during my tenure on the Higley governing board,” Hoffman said, adding that he plans to use the Auditor General’s findings to push for education reform during next year’s legislative session.

After retiring from Higley, Birdwell received eight checks totaling $57,000 from Hunt & Caraway before she was hired in 2016 by the Scottsdale Unified School District as its superintendent through June 2019.

The memo section on two of the Hunt & Caraway checks referred to “consulting” but the company failed to provide investigators any documents supporting the purposes of the checks.

But Birdwell’s time at SUSD was cut short, when she was given a $150,000 contract buyout in April 2018 after district officials alleged she failed to disclose a “substantial, personal interest” with Hunt & Caraway, which billed the Scottsdale District for nearly $2 million after Birdwell became its superintendent.

Birdwell is accused of not claiming the payments as income on her state income tax returns.

Court dates have not been announced for the four defendants who will stand trial in Maricopa County Superior Court.