Fayette Co. Schools accused of 'targeting law enforcement' in quiz for 5th graders, district refutes claim

Posted at 5:16 PM, Sep 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-02 08:56:56-04

FAYETTE COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — The Kentucky Peace Officers Association is enraged after learning about a Fayette County Schools quiz given to fifth graders.

The organization posted a screenshot of the quiz on its Facebook page and criticized it, adding, "We'll be requesting a meeting [with Fayette Schools] soon."

The quiz's first question is, "What is the relationship between Jacob Blake and Breonna Taylor?"

The first answer choice is, "Both were victims of police violence, sparking protests against racial injustice."

LEX 18 requested an on-camera interview with KPOA, but they declined. Instead, President Chip Nowlin sent a statement. It read, in part, "While it is the responsibility of educational leaders to shape the future, it is not their right to do so in a manner designed to intentionally and negatively influence young minds and promote a political agenda."

Fayette County Schools say the questions were taken out of context without the attached article seen below:

Spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall provided the following statement on the matter:

"As part of a social studies assignment last week, one of our fifth grade teachers asked students to read an article about the postponement of NBA playoff games following player boycotts. The assignment included four comprehension questions related to information contained in the article. The activity was not teacher created; it was pulled from a website called Newsela, a resource where teachers regularly find articles about current events to augment social studies lessons. The assignment in question presented the very adult issues facing our nation in a benign way that students could comprehend.

While we appreciate that some may believe the topic was too mature for fifth-graders, it is critical that our classrooms be safe places where students can discuss current events. Fayette County Public Schools is committed to helping students become civically engaged citizens who are wise consumers of digital media able to think critically about the world around them. That requires we address difficult topics and teach students to have civil conversations with people who have different points of view."

KPOA also criticized the Kentucky Department of Education on its Facebook page, adding statements made about police in a KDE resource guide regarding trauma were "prejudicial and inflammatory."

Nowlin further explains the issues KPOA has with KDE and Fayette County in his full statement below:

"According to the Kentucky Department of Education website, the core values of the department are equity, achievement, collaboration and integrity. The Kentucky Peace Officers' Association also believes educational leaders must embrace diversity, assure equality and shape the future of all of Kentucky's children. With that said, we have recently noticed a constant, steady undertone of derisive publications from KDE, as well as local school districts specifically targeting the good men and women of law enforcement. While it is the responsibility of educational leaders to shape the future, it is not their right to do so in a manner designed to intentionally and negatively influence young minds and promote a political agenda.

An unfortunate reality of our world today is that sensationalism fuels the mainstream media companies. It seems it is no longer important to report the news accurately, as long as you report it first. When our educators are designing curriculums based on what a media company reports with no other facts, and using wording designed specifically to mold negative opinions of anyone wearing a uniform, we have a problem. As the Commonwealth's oldest professional organization of law enforcement officers, the KPOA will continue to speak out in support of all the dedicated public servants who run toward situations when everyone else is running away."

Kentucky Department of Education spokeswoman Toni Konz Tatman said KDE has been in contact with Nowlin in regard to his concerns about their resource guide.

Below is an email that was sent to Nowlin from KDE Associate Commissioner Kelly Foster on August 17th.

President Nowlin,

Thank you for contacting the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE). Interim Commissioner Kevin Brown asked me to respond to your recent correspondence regarding Understanding Trauma and Traumatic Stress. As you note, many law enforcement officers work diligently to serve the citizens of Kentucky and across our nation, and we honor and acknowledge their efforts. There is also a well-documented history of racism, discrimination and brutality towards Black people by law enforcement that can result in racial trauma. This is related to the history of systemic and structural factors that have allowed bias, prejudice, discrimination and oppression to be perpetuated across institutions, including law enforcement and education. The KDE recognizes we must address these systemic factors and the traumatic impacts of race-based inequities on our students, staff and families.

There are numerous resources that address concerns about systemic and structural racism in law enforcement at the state and national level, including from government agencies. In June, the Kentucky Court of Justice released a report acknowledging disproportionately punitive treatment of Black youth in our own state Juvenile Justice system (attached for your reference). The U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention also recognizes “juvenile arrests disproportionately involved black youth” in its June 2020 issue of Juvenile Justice Statistics (page 8). I have attached a list with examples of the range of sources that examined police data and uncovered systemic and structural racial inequities.

Law enforcement is reckoning with its history of racism: The National Police Foundation says on its website, “acknowledgment of the role implicit and overt biases have historically played in creating disparate law enforcement practices and the resulting frictions between African Americans and the police is a reality that should be immediately addressed.” The Ethical Society of Police appreciates that individual officers are honorable and excellent, and also that law enforcement systems require reform. And, numerous police officers and units around the country have publicly acknowledged the need for reform to address racism in law enforcement: the Flint (Michigan) Police Department, and officers in St. Louis, Austin, and elsewhere. This has also been addressed by the Kentucky State Legislature: the School Safety and Resiliency Act (2019) requires that “diversity and bias awareness training” and “trauma-informed action” be included in the required course curriculum for School Resource Officers (SROs) in KRS 158.4414. The KDE looks forward to working with SROs to reduce implicit bias and address trauma in our schools.

The KDE recognizes that we have much to do to be trauma-informed and achieve equity and justice in our schools and communities. To ignore this problem diminishes the pain and persistent negative impact of such experiences. The first step in overcoming a problem is acknowledging it, and we publicly acknowledge that we have a great deal of work ahead. We hope the Kentucky Peace Officers’ Association will join with KDE, School Resource Officers, our legislature and others in achieving these goals.

Tatman said KDE has not received a response to the email sent to Nowlin.

She continued with the following statement:

"As mentioned in the letter to Mr. Nowlin, the KDE recognizes that we all have much to do to be trauma-informed and achieve equity and justice in our schools and communities. To ignore this problem diminishes the pain and persistent negative impact of such experiences. We acknowledge that we have a great deal of work ahead of us and it is our hope that the Kentucky Peace Officers Association will join with the KDE, school resource officers, our legislature and other community partners in achieving these important goals."