Celeste Fiehler knows how destructive identity politics can be. She lives it every day in a house divided over race and politics. And she says California’s push to make “ethnic studies” a statewide requirement to graduate from high school is only going to make matters worse.
“My life is hell,” she told The Epoch Times.
Fiehler, 40, is married with four children in the public school system and one in college. She’s one of several local parents in La Quinta, California, who have spoken out against critical race theory (CRT) being taught in California schools.
The local Desert Sands Unified School District (DSUSD) will offer a new ethnic studies course in the fall, and Fiehler is worried that it will include CRT and racial ideas pushed by the California Teachers Association that promote concepts such as “divorcing the default of whiteness,” which she sees as racism toward white people.
“It’s disgusting. It’s full-on racist. It’s so sad,” Fiehler told The Epoch Times.
“More and more, we hear from parents across the political spectrum who are outraged about what they see as indoctrination and a radical philosophy that divides students by color, and fails to instill a love for our country.”
CRT stems from Marxist ideology, which focuses on the class struggle between the “bourgeois” and the “proletariat.” But CRT adds a controversial racial component by focusing on the struggle between white “oppressors” and “oppressed” other races.
The theory has gained support among many left-wing activist groups, academia, and government in recent years. But over the past few months, parents have increasingly spoken out against CRT teachings that they claim are hidden under the guise of “ethnic studies” and other euphemisms. Several states have banned CRT in public schools and other government institutions.
In response, the largest teachers union in the United States, the National Educators Association (NEA), recently approved a resolution stating that CRT is “reasonable and appropriate” to teach to K-12 students. The group plans to “publicize” CRT and has dedicated staff to “fight back against anti-CRT rhetoric.”
Bullying at School
A few years ago, Fiehler’s then 12-year-old daughter was bullied at school in the Desert Sands Unified School District (DSUSD). She was beaten at least six times, according to Fiehler.
Bullies also allegedly followed her home from school and hurled racial slurs at her, sometimes in Spanish, such as “stupid white girl,” “white Dora” (since she had bangs like the television character Dora the Explorer), and “rat.”
Fiehler wondered if her daughter was targeted for the color of her skin when she heard the bullies’ verbal attacks. She said district officials assured her that the bullying began as a squabble over “boys.” But then it escalated into name-calling, racial slurs, mean-spirited texts, social media attacks, and physical violence, she said.
And when the bullies found out that her stepfather worked in law enforcement, they harassed her about that, too.
“They texted her to kill herself,” Fiehler said. “My daughter wanted to end it all.”
Fiehler said she went to district officials to put a stop to the bullying, but “the school did nothing,” despite a “zero tolerance” policy. She also claims that she found out that her daughter’s school counselor was the grandmother of the “head bully,” and the mother was a principal at one of the high schools.
Fiehler decided in 2019 that the best option was to pull her daughter out of the school and send her to live with her father in Nevada.
“We are a blended family,” she said.
Her daughter, now 15, is back in California and will return to the same school district in the fall.
School District’s Response
Citing federal privacy laws, Mary Perry, DSUSD’s public information officer, told The Epoch Times via email that the district couldn’t respond to questions about individual students.
According to Perry, an unnamed “senior-level administrator” responding to questions said that when anyone reports a concern over alleged bullying, a full investigation is to be conducted, and based on the findings, “appropriate actions,” including “possible disciplinary action, peer mediation, restorative practices, and counseling,” are to be taken. All of the students involved are to receive ongoing monitoring and support.
The administrator stated, “We are not aware of these allegations,” in response to inquiries about the alleged bullying and attacks on Fiehler’s daughter.
However, Fiehler said she has video footage and other documentary evidence, she filed police reports, and that DSUSD Superintendent Scott Bailey and Assistant Superintendent Laura Fisher are aware of the situation.
The Epoch Times has obtained video footage of Fiehler’s daughter being followed home from school. In another video clip, her daughter is seen in a grassy area with her hands in her pockets, backing away from another girl, who then pushes her, and they both fall to the ground struggling, while a crowd of students laugh and shout.
“She has her hands in her sweater. She backs up in all the videos. She’s saying, ‘I don’t want to fight you. I don’t want to fight you,’ and they just attack her,” Fiehler said.
DSUSD officials said they were also unaware Fiehler’s daughter was harassed about her stepfather’s job.
‘Something Was Wrong’
In 2020, during the school closures at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fiehler was helping another daughter, this one in 7th grade at the same school, with her online studies when a slide popped up on her screen asking if she was a Republican or a Democrat.
The next slide showed two photos: one of football players kneeling for the flag and national anthem and one of baseball players standing.
“Which do you support?” students were asked.
The questions were asked in a homeroom “zero period,” Fiehler said.
“That’s when I knew that something was wrong,” Fiehler said. “I needed to dig a little deeper into why these questions were being asked to 7th graders in a class that didn’t have anything to do with government.”
The senior-level administrator didn’t respond to specific questions about whether it’s appropriate to ask 7th-grade students which political party they support or whether they support standing for the national anthem or taking a knee.
The unnamed official stated that board policy allows for “instruction related to controversial issues that may arouse strong reactions based on personal values and beliefs, political philosophy, culture, religion, or other influences,” but that such topics must be “relevant to the adopted course of study.”
The administrator denied that CRT is included in the elective ethnic studies course being offered in the fall.
Fiehler said she asked to see the curriculum for the course, but claims Assistant Superintendent Kelly May-Vollmar told her the program was still being developed, preventing the district from sharing it with her.
According to Fiehler, May-Vollmar told her the curriculum covers five areas of study, including African American, Asian American, Native American, and Latino American studies, and the fifth area would be open for individual teachers to decide.
“The curriculum is under development and parent information nights will be hosted this summer at each high school for those interested in exploring the curriculum and providing feedback,” a statement released by the district regarding the program reads.
The California Department of Education approved the state’s 900-page ethnic studies model curriculum in March, after four years, four drafts, and more than 100,000 public comments, according to the district.
Division in the Home
Fiehler blames the schools, the media, and “soft journalism” for allowing her children to be gradually brainwashed with leftist propaganda, even outside of any ethnic studies program.
“It’s impacted my family, because we can’t even have dinner together at the same table. I find myself having to be quiet about the news in my house,” she said. “In my house … we can’t play certain news channels. … My kids will huff and puff and say, ‘Why are you watching this?’ or act irritated at us.
“My kids show an entitlement that comes from the school where, ‘You’re supposed to take care of me, pay for everything, and I have zero responsibilities.’
“They’re being raised by the public school system. We try to have conversations with them, and they get so upset that our views are different than theirs.”
On issues such as “law and order, the border situation, or CRT,” Fiehler said her children tell her she’s wrong.
“They think that there is systemic racism, and they as white students should divorce their whiteness … that they should be ashamed of who they are because it’s oppressing the other student next to them,” she said. “They’re ashamed that we’re white. They don’t say that, but they say how wrong the United States is because it was founded on racism.”
If she mentions President Abraham Lincoln, they’ll say that he doesn’t have anything to do with what’s happening today and that the Constitution is old.
Christopher Columbus is another hot-button topic in her home.
“They will say ‘Columbus came here, raped all the women, and killed all the Indians,’” Fiehler said.
But when she tries to explain that before Columbus showed up “this land wasn’t smoking peace pipes and unicorns everywhere,” her children don’t want to hear about it.
They don’t want to hear about history, but only what’s trending on social media. she said. They tell her, “That’s too old. We’re talking about now—BLM [Black Lives Matter].” Fiehler said her children have been indoctrinated to believe that rioting and looting are OK “because that’s reparations.”
“Now I’m called a bootlicker for defending a police officer,” she said.
However, Fiehler’s previously bullied daughter has become more of a “self-thinker,” she said.
“I believe it’s because she was removed from public school, and enrolled in a homeschool that was about ‘going back to basics,'” she said.
Fiehler said schools should abolish “group think” and instead teach students to think for themselves.
Students should be taught Lincoln was assassinated over his belief that slavery should be abolished and how and why slaves were freed in the United States.
“If we’re going to teach history, we shouldn’t start at today and create our own,” she said. “We definitely can’t erase history because once you start erasing history, you start erasing yourself.”
The U.S. education system should restore civics classes and place more emphasis on trade schools, because not all students need, want, or can afford a university degree, she suggested. She would also like to see the return of shop and home economics classes to teach students a broader range of basic and practical life skills.
Fiehler urged more parents to get more involved in their children’s education and not let them grow up to be “zombies” who don’t know how to do much besides staying “glued” to video games, electronic devices, and what’s trending on social media.
Fiehler was so frustrated with the local school district that she ran for the school board in 2020, and although she was defeated, she said the experience was an eye-opener.
“I ran just as a parent. I didn’t know what I was going up against. I went up against the teachers’ union. During my campaign, I started realizing just how deep the teachers’ union is involved in politics,” she said. “They did anything they could to keep a parent off the school board. It opened Pandora’s Box for me.”
Since then, Fiehler and other parents have launched a grassroots “#Fight For Fall” campaign opposing and exposing as much as they can about leftist ideas and CRT in the school system.
“We’re trying to block all of this stuff,” she said.
Fiehler joined the Parent Union and is now the group’s Riverside County ambassador.
“We need … a parents’ voice for parents’ choice. And because we don’t have that, we are being shut out by politicians the teachers’ unions,” she said.
The Parent Union, founded by Cecilia “Ceci” Iglesias, formerly an elected trustee to the Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD), advocates for school choice and opposes CRT.
Fiehler tells her story to as many parents as she can and urges them to “wake up”’ for the sake of their children and families.
“I have indoctrinated kids. Maybe you don’t know it right now, or maybe you feel this isn’t happening in your home, or you’re seeing changes in your children,” she said. “But I speak to many families where the parents cry to me and say, ‘I never taught my kid to be like this.’”
Many parents have noticed a drastic shift in the attitudes of their children over the past few years, she said.
“It’s a different type of rebellion, where they’re actually calling out the parents and saying you’re a racist for not believing in BLM or kneeling for the flag, or you’re racist for loving our country or being a patriot,” Fiehler said.
Fiehler said she’s “fed up” with schools and teachers and urged more parents to take a stand.
“This is not just for white families, but white families especially don’t speak up on this stuff because they don’t feel they’re the right color,” Fiehler said.
“It doesn’t matter what color you are. You’re saving your own child and the ones that can’t speak. So I believe that these schools are creating little armies and using our schools or the public school system as a war zone.”
If schools can’t deal effectively with bullying now, Fiehler said that she wonders how they’re going to handle even more racial division, which she believes CRT will cause in schools when students are separated into classes of “privileged” white oppressors and the non-white oppressed.