Hamilton Southeastern Schools Superintendent Allen Bourff stirred controversy by telling district staff to treat Black Lives Matter as a political movement. He apologized in a follow-up letter for the “impact” of the first letter.
In the first letter, Bourff said he has heard from “a number” of parents who are concerned that the district is advancing the cause of Black Lives Matter, which he described as a political movement.
“They contend that their children are being indoctrinated rather than taught and that this effort has been a distraction from the academic purpose of school,” he wrote.
A Change.org petition calls on Bourff to step down immediately before his retirement June 30. The petition had 1,679 signatures as of Feb. 10.
Emily Abbotts, a district spokesperson, said in an email Bourff does not plan to resign. She estimated the district received about 30 emails from parents about teaching Black Lives Matter in schools before Bourff sent the first letter.
About 8% of students in the district are Black or African American, according to state education data, and about 70% are white.
Much of the letter, which was shared on social media, is a discussion about the role of teachers when it comes to talking about political movements, and Bourff mentions state standards that include explaining the efforts of African Americans, Native Americans, Latinx and LGBTQ communities to “assert their social and civil rights.”
Bourff didn’t suggest teachers avoid talking about Black Lives Matter and says schools have led discussions for years about other political movements such as women’s suffrage and the American Revolution.
“I am requesting that if you work with the topic, treat it as a political issue, and as you do with other political issues, teach it without advancing it or promoting your personal views,” he wrote.
Bourff cited an AP government and politics teacher in Virginia for how to address Black Lives Matter in the classroom.
In a follow-up letter, Bourff said his intent was to give guidance to teachers to help students develop their own positions.
“The intent of yesterday’s letter to the faculty was designed to provide instructional strategies to discuss and teach Black Lives Matter, one of the most significant issues of our time,” he wrote. “I understand that the impact was hurtful, and for that I apologize.”
He also wrote he doesn’t want teachers to “abandon their passion” for social causes and clarified that he didn’t request teachers not talk about social issues. The second letter doesn’t include any mentions of Black Lives Matter as a political issue.
The district has a chief equity and inclusion officer, Nataki Pettigrew, but Abbotts said Pettigrew has been away from work for a family matter and was not consulted about the letter.
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.