Peoria Parents File Complaint Against School District for Attempting to Hide Curriculum, Ignore Opt-Out Requests

Peoria Parents File Complaint Against School District for Attempting to Hide Curriculum, Ignore Opt-Out Requests

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.”

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



Peoria Parents File Complaint Against School District for Attempting to Hide Curriculum, Ignore Opt-Out Requests

Peoria Unified School District Will Quarantine Asymptomatic, Unvaccinated Students – But Not Educators

By Corinne Murdock |

One week into Peoria Unified School District’s (PUSD) school year, parents are already reporting that their students have been required to quarantine until they receive a negative test result – even if they’re not symptomatic or feeling sick in the slightest. Students are required to quarantine 10 days at most, 3 if they test negative for the virus. However, these rules don’t apply to everybody.

Only fully vaccinated individuals, “essential worker” educators that are asymptomatic, and those who’ve recovered from COVID-19 in the last three months aren’t required to quarantine. According to PUSD policy, the district will continue to quarantine all others exposed to COVID-19 at the discretion of Maricopa County Department of Public Health (MCDPH). If the county determines that there’s been an “outbreak,” they will require all students exposed to the infected student to be quarantined.

Educators may remain in school so long as they wear masks if they’ve been exposed and are asymptomatic – but unvaccinated, asymptomatic students who haven’t contracted COVID in the last three months must go home.

“Students, staff, and educators who are close contacts of someone who has COVID-19 and are not fully vaccinated (or have not tested positive for and recovered from COVID-19 in the prior 3 months) must quarantine away from others for up to 10 days following their last exposure per MCDPH. Importantly, per CDC, ADHS, and MCDPH, all close contacts who have been fully vaccinated (starting 2 weeks after the final COVID-19 vaccine dose) do not need to quarantine if they do not have any symptoms. In other words, if identified as a close contact, the need to quarantine depends on a person’s COVID-19 vaccination status and/or COVID-19 infection history. MCDPH recommends that close contacts be tested for COVID-19 3-5 days following their last exposure, regardless of vaccination status.

Close contacts who must quarantine need to be excluded from school and extracurricular activities during their quarantine period. The duration of quarantine is either 10 full days or 7 full days following their last exposure, as long as a COVID-19 test performed on day 6 or 7 is negative and the contact has no symptoms. If a staff member or an educator is determined to be a close contact who must quarantine and they are considered to be an essential worker (as designated by the school), they can continue to work during their quarantine period if they do not have any symptoms and wear a mask while working. Please see the Quarantine Guidance on the MCDPH website for more detailed information.” (original emphasis included and emphasis added)

Previous Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas told AZ Free News that quarantining healthy students is negatively impacting their education. Douglas referenced the stunted reading skills of younger children who’d done distance learning due to COVID-19.

“The parents I hear from, they’re not happy. They don’t want their kids quarantined, potentially without an illness,” said Douglas. “We’re taking very extreme responses to something I don’t think deserves such an extreme response and we’re not looking at the damage it’s doing to our children’s learning.”

Douglas relayed the story of one mother who’d confided that her son was forced to quarantine 6 times for COVID-19 exposure – altogether, he missed 2 months of school – but he never became sick.

The former superintendent asserted that this continued exercise of power has gone too far.

“Unfortunately, and this in my opinion, they’ve just pretty much been given free reign to do whatever they want to do – I think it’s the old saying, absolute power corrupts absolutely,” said Douglas.

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

Catalina Foothills, Peoria Unified Warned Covid-19 Quarantine Policies Unlawful

Catalina Foothills, Peoria Unified Warned Covid-19 Quarantine Policies Unlawful

On Wednesday, the Governor’s Office notified the superintendents of Peoria Unified School District and Catalina Foothills School District that their policies requiring quarantine for unvaccinated students who have been exposed to COVID-19 are illegal.

The letter from the governor’s education policy advisor, Kaitlin Harrier, to the schools says requiring unvaccinated students exposed to COVID-19 to isolate for 14 days is discriminatory. Vaccinated students are exempt from this requirement according to the districts’ policies.

The Governor’s Office says that’s against the law because a school district or charter school can’t “require a student or teacher to get the COVID-19 vaccine or wear a face mask to participate in in-person instruction.”

In her letter to the Peoria Unified School District, Harrier cited the district’s policy of keeping students out of the classroom for 14 days would have detrimental effects on their education and could even keep students from meeting attendance requirements to advance to the next grade level.

“This policy must be rescinded immediately,” Harrier wrote in the letter.