North Penn School District Teacher Threatened Over ‘Privilege Walk’ Exercise
The threatening voicemail left on a school phone is part of an ongoing debate over the district’s teaching of race-related issues.
LANSDALE, Penn. — A threatening voicemail left Sunday night at North Penn School District’s A.M. Kulp Elementary School is being investigated by local law enforcement.
In a virtual meeting Tuesday night, the North Penn School Board addressed the expletive-filled and derogatory voicemail, which referenced an allegation that a fifth-grade teacher separated students by race and made White students apologize to Black students during a May 2021 classroom exercise, reports North Penn.
In the message, the man threatens to sexually assault the teacher and said, “They will [expletive] see your head swinging from a pole.” You can listen to the voicemail here but viewer discretion is strongly advised.
The voicemail is part of an ongoing debate over the district’s teaching of race-related issues. Throughout the past two years, some parents have questioned the board and district’s efforts to increase educational equity and teachings on race, which includes a new district equity statement passed in the summer of 2020.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Board President Tina Stoll clarified the type of exercise in question. Often referred to as a “privilege walk,” participants are asked a variety of questions and with each affirmative answer, participants step forward until all questions have been asked. At the end of the exercise, the distance between participants is used to show differences in background, societal advantages and perceived privileges.
“To be very clear, this board supports the [Diversity, Education and Inclusion] work being done in this district. One of our goals, when we got elected, was to advocate for policies that make sure every student that comes through North Penn feels welcome, safe, heard, represented and has every opportunity afforded to them to succeed,” Stoll said. “Part of that work is providing professional development lessons to our staff on these topics. Mrs. Chappell took a PD lesson on teaching Perspective and Empathy and tailored it to her fifth-grade students. The students were asked to line up – and not by color. As students are asked to line up for things every day, they lined up in their groups of friends. They were asked a series of questions.”
There were 17 questions total, including, “If you can find Band-Aids designed to blend with or match your skin tone, step forward,” “If you never skip a meal or were hungry because there wasn’t enough money to buy food, step forward,” and “If it’s expected of you that you go to college, step forward.”
“There was none of what certain people have claimed to have taken place – there was no lining up by color, there was no apologizing of White kids to Black kids,” Stoll continued. “Again, this was a lesson to teach perspective and empathy.”
Community Members Clash Over Equity Exercise
In recent months, parents have spoken at school board meetings asking about the exercise, and the debate spread to social media over the past two weeks. On Feb. 1, a TikTok account posted a clip from a Kulp parent speaking at a Sept. 2021 board meeting. The parent said she pulled her children from the school because of the exercise, says The Reporter Online. The post drew thousands of responses.
That same day, the board’s Education/Curriculum/Instruction Committee held a two-hour meeting with presentations from several district principals, including Kulp Principal Christina Carter. The group discussed ongoing diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
“Immediately afterward, Mrs. Carter was subjected to vicious attacks on social media,” Stoll said. “Her colleague at Kulp Elementary, Mrs. Chappell, has also been subjected once again to personal attacks because of an activity that she did in her class last year.”
Stoll also said Carter, Chappell and other Kulp staff have been subjected to “vile phone calls and voicemails left on the school office phone from people, that are not necessarily in North Penn School District, but from all over the country.”
Due to the influx in threats, Superintendent Dr. Curt Dietrich said there has been increased security at Kulp, and students are concerned and upset.
“We definitely are asking our community to stop spreading falsehoods, things that just aren’t correct, and we’re calling upon individuals around the country to treat individuals with kindness and respect,” he said. “If you don’t agree with things, we can have discussions about those things, but we need to do so in a civil way.”
Campus Safety spoke to Board Director Jonathan Kassa, who said the messages the district has been barraged with “are a symptom of the ongoing vilification of public service and public education” due to the “culmination of a year of incivility and manufactured outrage.”
“I visited the falsely accused school and staff last week, and this was before the threatening voicemail over the weekend, they were already under siege. I don’t use this term lightly,” he continued. “The people who help to spread the contagion of misinformation, they have placed a terrible strain upon an entire school community. When staff are concerned about their own safety and security, this directly impacts students and their learning environment. School board directors, district leaders, and especially law enforcement and legislators of public policy, need to realize this threat now and act. We are in a new era.”
The FBI has been made aware of the most recent threat, according to North Penn Now, but it is not confirmed if they are investigating it.
Back in October, the FBI said it doesn’t tag or investigate parents who simply speak out at school board meetings and that it only opens investigations when there is information “indicating the potential use of force or violence and a potential violation of federal law.”