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Today the Missouri attorney general announced subpoenas of seven school districts in response to parent complaints of racist instruction and intrusive surveys administered to their children allegedly without prior parental notice. Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office also posted Wednesday a public database of open records investigations into 49 Missouri school districts that uncovered the systemic abuse of public schooling for political purposes.
The investigation uncovers Missouri public schools forcing students to participate in exercises that shame children for their skin color and teaching that races are inherently unequal, which violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Schmitt found such instances in 21 percent of Missouri’s 226 school districts after only two months of following up on parent complaints, indicating the problems are much more widespread. The investigations are ongoing and parents can submit more complaints to Schmitt’s office here.
The newly public records document Missouri public schools forcing students to participate in a “privilege walk” in Saint Charles County’s Wentzville School District, shaming “whiteness” in teacher training in Saint Louis County’s Rockwood School District, and applying a Marxist or feminist “lens” to reading assignments at Hickman High School in Boone County.
In the Webster Groves School District in the Saint Louis suburbs, second graders were required to answer, “When is the first time you noticed that people can be different races from you?” and, “Do you feel more comfortable around people who look like you?” according to documentation the legal nonprofit Southeastern Legal Foundation (SLF) sent Schmitt in a May 1 letter.
Webster Groves middle school students were also required to take a survey that asked, “Has someone ever offended you or someone you know because of your race or ethnicity, and if you feel comfortable please share how [sic],” according to SLF’s letter.
Schmitt’s spokesman told The Federalist the subpoenas are intended to help evaluate if the districts followed state laws. If not, the subpoenas could lead to lawsuits, Chris Nuelle said: “Once we obtain more information, all legal options are on the table.”
Statewide Investigation into ‘Equity’ Industry
Schmitt’s office also announced subpoenas as part of its investigations into “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) initiatives in Missouri public schools. He also is investigating a private DEI consultancy, Educational Equity Consultants, that contracts with many Missouri public schools.
Like parents nationwide, parents across Missouri have raised alarms about public school political extremism after school lockdowns let them see into their children’s classrooms. SLF asked Schmitt to investigate several parent complaints about Webster Groves surveys they found alarming. The parents came to SLF for help after they found the district unresponsive, said SLF Litigation Director Braden Boucek.
“The parents would be the first to tell you they felt they were being stonewalled through this entire process,” Boucek told The Federalist. “…The consistent throughline was these parents found out about this after the fact, and any time a parent would go to the school district and say, ‘This is wildly inappropriate,’ the school district would make it difficult for them to find out what was on these surveys.”
According to SLF’s letter, Webster Groves High School required all students to answer “mental health” surveys every week. The surveys may require self-incrimination on sensitive topics including sexuality, race, political views, and their parents’ behavior at home: “Notably, WGSD conducts these surveys without seeking prior written consent from the students’ parents, and in many instances, it appears that the identity of the student is not anonymous,” the SLF letter says.
Systemically Racist Schooling a National Problem
Boucek said incidents like these are “not isolated” either in Missouri or nationwide: “Ever since we filed our complaint with the AG we’ve been flooded with people who are trying to share their stories.”
The vendors Webster Groves bought some of the surveys from, Panorama Education and Project Wayfinder, sell to districts across the United States. Panorama has sold its wares to approximately 1,500 school districts nationwide, according to Influence Watch. Also according to Influence Watch, Project Wayfinder’s cofounder is the U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland’s son-in-law, and the company received startup funds from Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Numerous news stories have documented Panorama products pushing critical race theory in public schools, and making millions in the process. In a 2020 statement, the company proclaimed, “We commit to dismantling systemic racism, we commit to embodying and spreading anti-racist practices.” Between 2017 and 2020, Panorama made at least $27 million from public school districts in 21 states, according to an OpenBooks.org investigation.
“Although it is unclear how much money WGSD has paid Panorama and Project Wayfinder over the years, other Missouri school districts like Springfield Public Schools pay Panorama upwards of $60,000 annually to obtain personally sensitive information from students, families, and the community. Shockingly, $60,000 is a small contract for Panorama. Other school districts like Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia have entered into contracts worth $2.4 million with Panorama,” the SLF letter documents.
Schmitt launched a Parents First initiative in March 2022 that asked parents to submit to him complaints about potential school violations of state law. His office then followed up on these with records requests to numerous schools, and posted the results of that probe in the database it made public on Wednesday, said spokesman Chris Nuelle in an interview.
In a statement sent to The Federalist, WGSD said it broke no federal or state laws in administering these surveys:
The District complies in all respects with the [federal] Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA). The requirements for student surveys under the PPRA apply only to programs partially or wholly funded by the U.S. Department of Education…None of the surveys cited by SLF were a part of any such program.
The requirements of the Missouri statute cited by SLF (§161.096) are only directed to ‘the statewide longitudinal data system’ maintained by the Missouri Department of Education, not to any student information gathered at the local level…The only reference in that statute to the local school district is a prohibition against reporting certain student information to the state data system, and the Webster Groves School District does not report any such information to the Department of Education.
The federal government accelerated public schools’ use of student “climate surveys” as a state-selected “accountability indicator,” or “nonacademic indicator,” to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act. Congress passed that successor to No Child Left Behind in a lame-duck session at the end of 2015. Congressional Republicans were key to rushing its passage under President Barack Obama before they seized historic levels of electoral power over Congress and the presidency when Donald Trump took office in January 2016.
“There’s the factual question as to whether these surveys were or were not federally funded and I hope that’s something the attorney general investigates thoroughly,” Boucek said.