The Paradise Valley School (PVUSD) Governing Board President Pro Tem indicated that white Christians shouldn’t determine curriculum.
Newly elected PVUSD member Kerry Baker issued the remark over the weekend in response to Arizona Department of Education (ADE) Superintendent Tom Horne’s recent actions to purge social-emotional learning (SEL), critical race theory (CRT), and other progressive ideologies from classrooms. Baker claimed that CRT isn’t present in schools but that what Horne sought to eradicate was true history; she pinned blame on white Christians for the purportedly misdirected purge.
“We are not a society of white Christians,” tweeted Baker. “It is dangerous to assume we are. It is even more dangerous to believe public schools are only made up of white Christians. Our communities are full of rich and diverse cultures and families. We should ALL be celebrated. Not just a certain population.”
Baker added the claim that Horne’s opposition to CRT made him a “racist.”
“When [Tom Horne] says he’s anti-CRT, he’s just reminding us he’s racist,” stated Baker.
Baker, a former Peoria Unified School District and Dysart Unified School District teacher endorsed by teacher union lobbyist group Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSAZ), stands in opposition to major policy changes defining the Horne administration. Baker ran on a campaign opposing universal school choice, supporting SEL, and resisting public posting of teaching materials.
Baker is a product of the Leading For Change (LFC) fellowship program: a Democrat-run group that trains up Democratic elected officials and activists, founded by a board member of dark money group Arizona Advocacy Network (AAN), who’s also the former executive for Center for Progressive Leadership and Planned Parenthood of Central and Northern Arizona.
Baker explained in her LFC biography that she decided to run for PVUSD governing board because two of her six children had identities that aligned with her activist interests. According to Baker, she has helped one of her children transition genders, and another one of her children has autism.
In an interview with The Arizona Republic last year, Baker said that SEL was important because it enabled K-12 educators to fulfill students’ social and emotional shortcomings caused by school closures throughout the pandemic — much of which were prompted by educators and teachers unions.
During her first school board meeting earlier this month, Baker listed greater inclusivity of special needs children in regular classrooms, expanding LGBTQ+ rights, hiring SEL teachers, and emphasizing diversity among her priorities. Baker quoted Gov. Katie Hobbs in her introductory speech, saying that there wasn’t a shortage of teachers, just a crisis retention.
In addition to her dislike of “white Christians,” Baker appears to have a disdain for any groups composed mainly of white people — even if they’re children. In response to SOSAZ Director Beth Lewis posting a picture of Treasurer Kimberly Yee’s visit to the Brophy College Preparatory Republican Club last fall, Baker scorned the fact that the group looked too white.
“There wasn’t one [GIF] that said ‘so many white boys,’” wrote Baker.
Baker also supports allowing biological males to join female sports teams and enter female spaces, such as locker rooms and restrooms. Baker derided concerned parents opposed to this permissiveness as “transphobic.”
Throughout her campaign, Baker opposed efforts to ban any books from classrooms. She emphasized this stance as recognizing the importance of multiculturalism. Yet, Baker opposed any aspect of religion from entering the classroom — namely, Christianity. Baker claimed her opposition represented the proper understanding of ensuring a separation of church and state.
A father recently discovered that two English teachers at Paradise Valley Unified School District (PVUSD) assigned a book containing porn and sexually explicit material, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” by Jon Ronson, as part of an advanced placement (AP) 11th grade summer reading list. The greater theme of Ronson’s book was the revival of public shaming with the advent of the internet, and is rife with lewd stories and profanity. In addition to describing pornographic acts at length, the book also details bestiality and references kink.
The father, Thomas Morton, discovered that the initial assignment offered no content warnings or alternatives to the book. Instead, the assignment included a note suggesting that the students research the author. Immediate information about the book doesn’t indicate any of its sexual or pornographic content. It was only five weeks after receiving the initial assignment that his then-15-year-old daughter was given an alternative option in an email from her principal. That update didn’t offer any indication that the book was inappropriate.
The initial assignment told the students that upon returning to school in August, they would be given a timed writing prompt on “how the author incorporates humor along with informational text to achieve his purpose” in which they would have to quote directly from the book. The assignment also revealed that the book was available in the school library.
In an interview on Friday with Conservative Circus, Morton told radio host James T. Harris how he discovered the book.
“It came to light to me after my daughter and I discussed the book. She was too embarrassed to tell me the pornographic details, but she told me the book was generally about the Twitter mob publicly shaming people,” explained Morton. “I saw more and more things that concerned me, and I was pushed to have to really try to draw attention to this when I got to the part about a guy – uh – we’ll say impregnating his dog himself.”
Morton promptly wrote a letter to PVUSD Governing Board to contest the book on November 1. That letter is embedded below.
According to Morton’s interview, the teacher who assigned the material refused to answer questions about why the book was assigned and whether he’d read the book himself. The English teachers who assigned the material, Brian Morgan and Jay Parizek, teach at Horizon High School (HHS). The principal who sent the alternative assignment email after 5 weeks was HHS Principal Linda Ihnat. Neither the teachers or the principal has reportedly faced any disciplinary action for the assignment.
Morton’s further inquiries into the matter yielded another discovery: this was the second year that the same book was assigned. Following a mother’s complaint about the book in 2019, PVUSD Assistant Superintendent Dr. Dan Courson promised to prohibit the book from being assigned in the future.
Arizona law prohibits the distribution of pornographic or obscene material to children. According to A.R.S. 13-3506, it is a class 4 felony for a person to knowingly and “recklessly furnish, present, provide, make available, give, lend, show, advertise or distribute to minors any item that is harmful to minors.”
During the PVUSD Governing Board meeting on November 4, several days after Morton’s letter to the board, HHS English Department head Rachel Prince defended her fellow English teachers as dedicated individuals committed to reaching their students “in new ways” and creating classrooms that are “inviting and inspiring.” It is unclear whether Prince broached the topic of the contested book – the board cut her mic once her allotted 3 minutes of public comment were up.
“They have, as all teachers, been tasked with preparing their students academically, socially, and emotionally for a world that they will face after graduation and that grows more complicated every day,” said Prince.
According to emails obtained by AZ Free News PVUSD Superintendent Dr. Troy Bales claimed that the assignments were “a mistake.” During the PVUSD Governing Board meeting on Thursday, Bales apologized for the book. The superintendent said that it was inappropriate and explained that it had been assigned despite past instructions to teachers to not reassign it. He advised parents to read an apology and explanation letter he’d sent last week, which also detailed PVUSD action steps to rectifying the issue such as reinforcing and expanding notification procedures for parents and administration concerning books not included as approved curriculum.
“Though we believe it’s important to balance preparing AP students for college-level academics, it’s equally important to provide age-appropriate materials and coursework,” said Bales. “Moving forward, we have immediate and short-term steps to respond appropriately. Some of those steps were described in the letter and I encourage you to read it.”
In public comments at the meeting, one father excoriated the board for not taking action on the unapproved, contested curriculum when they’d promised to do so last year. He shared how his own daughter took it upon herself to redact an assigned book for fear that her younger sister would read it.
“The books that we’re bringing in are filth. And there’s no reason for it. I should not have a daughter of mine be crossing out material in a book. And the reason why she crossed it out was not for herself, because she’s old enough to handle and learn things that she thought was inappropriate – it’s because she thought her younger sister was going to grab it,” said . “What are we doing? When our children are having to police the books for their younger siblings. It’s a shame. And these books should never have been there. They’ve never been approved.”
A mother urged accountability for Morgan, Parizek, and all other teachers assigning explicit material to be fired and investigated.
“My heart is breaking for these kids, and I’m just wondering: how did we get here? Our job as adults, parents, educators is to protect children, educate them, love them,” said the mother. “Giving porn to a child is grooming and it’s a crime. I’m calling for any teacher that knowingly gives explicit material to children to be fired and for a criminal investigation to take place.”
Morton said that he will be removing his child from Morgan and Parizek’s class, filing complaints to the police and the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) about both teachers and the principal involved.