Near the end of a recent 13-hour plus State School Board meeting, board member Natalie Cline blasted Utah educators who feel “emboldened” to “proselyte their divisive, inappropriate and highly offensive ideologies to students of all ages.” 

Cline’s criticisms are related to a recently leaked Accuracy in Media video that includes purported statements by Utah educators on how they flout state laws and rules on teaching restricted content.

“There are some very real, very disturbing things going on in our public schools and it seems that no matter how many rules or trainings or documents have been put out, these same issues keep popping up like a never-ending game of Whac-a-Mole,” said Cline, whose board district on the Utah State Board of Education includes a large swath of the Jordan School District.

People in the video are identified as educators in the Jordan and Murray school districts. Jordan and Murray school district officials have described the video as “inaccurate,” “misleading” and “incomplete.” Both districts are investigating, officials said.

The Accuracy in Media video depicts educators appearing to comment on how they teach restricted topics such as critical race theory or discuss preferred gender pronouns. Some said they instruct high school seniors “who don’t tell their parents” or they send home information to parents after classroom presentations have already taken place.

State School Board Chairman James Moss said the state board continues to review the situation as well.

Newly elected District 5 board member Sarah Reale said Utah educators are not feeling emboldened — rather they are “feeling a lack of trust after a lot of attacks they’ve taken from the Legislature and others.”

Reale continued, “I don’t believe that it’s a reflection of our schools or teachers. We have tons of evidence of the amazing things happening in public education. And I support and trust our school districts to do proper investigations into the validity of a video that comes from a national online media organization that has a history of pushing conspiracy theories and anti-equity messages.”

Educator on video apologizes

On Tuesday, one educator who appears on the video apologized to the Jordan School District Board of Education.

Michelle Love-Day, a consultant who oversees the school district’s Language and Culture Services, said in the course of her work she often challenges people “to be comfortable with being uncomfortable in conversations.”

“Today, I am very uncomfortable in the very uncomfortable position of acknowledging that although done under false pretenses, some of the things stated by me and my team made it sound like we disregard or take advantage of the laws and board policies and for this, we are truly sorry.”

In the video, Love-Day said she used the word “loopholes.” “I recognize that I made it sound as though we may be undermining state and district rules and policies. I admit it was a poor choice of words. But it was by no means a sentiment of avoiding or ‘working the system.’”

Love-Day said what she was trying to say was that the State School Board rule on education equity gives school districts “flexibility to operate in a way that allows them to address their unique needs. … To be clear, we support and follow all state laws and more policies, including the right for parents to opt out if their students have classroom instruction. In my department, we are all teachers and lifelong learners. And as lifelong learners, I want to assure you that we learned valuable lessons from this.”

Moving forward, notifications of upcoming presentations by the Language and Culture Services team are to be sent to parents ahead of time to give them time to discuss the subject matter with their child or opt them out of the lesson. A second notification will be sent to parents or guardians after the presentation.

Often, the grant-funded Language and Culture Services team teaches lessons at a school at the invitation of a principal or other educator because they have overheard students use pejorative language or students are being excluded or ridiculed by peers.

“So then the principal or the teacher will reach out to us and request a consultation for us to come out and talk with students about how to be kind and go beyond the ‘buddy bench,’” said Love-Day.

She continued, “We want them to be able to know how to be kind and uplift one another regardless of our differences and our language.”

For example, the team was invited to a school in Riverton where a girl was being made fun of because of her accent. The child speaks Spanish as her first language.

Love-Day addressed the girl in her classroom in Spanish, telling her “Tambien hablo español,” which means “I speak Spanish, too.”

They conversed a while in Spanish. “The kids are all like ‘What are you saying?’ They wanted in on the conversation. ‘That’s so cool.’ And then, recess was completely different for her. They started to see her as another human as well,” she said.

Love-Day thanked the school officials for their support.

“Again, I apologize and sincerely regret the confusion and hurt this has caused to the school community, you as board members and the superintendent,” Love-Day said.

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Board members push back

Despite the late hour of the state school board meeting on Feb. 2, which started at 9 a.m. and adjourned shortly before 11 p.m., other state school board members pushed back against Cline’s remarks.

Board member Carol Lear cautioned against accepting the video at face value because “there’s always two sides to a story.” 

Lear continued, “If we intend to take these things at face value and call teachers out, call administrators out, then we better have done an investigation and talk to both and all involved parties because I think we do have a crisis in terms of trust with teachers, with policymakers, and even among board members. I think we have to really decide what’s our mission and if we decide that this is our mission, it will take all our time.”

Such videos are “gathering momentum nationwide,” Reale said.

“There are messages created to divide us and I’m focused on supporting our teachers and giving them the tools that they need to give our students the future they deserve,” she said.