Parents, Officials Pushing Back Against Diversity Courses in Ohio Schools

By Michael Sakal
Michael Sakal
Michael Sakal
Michael Sakal is an Epoch Times reporter who covers the state of Ohio.
January 23, 2022 Updated: January 24, 2022

As state school officials and parents see a number of Ohio schools contracting with more diversity-related organizations that provide critical race theory and transgender courses for teachers—and pay for them with taxpayer funds—those who disagree with it want others to know they are fighting back.

Some see it as so bad that they have pulled their kids out of the public school system. They prefer to home school them away from what they see as “unfathomable” and “terrifying” content being presented to their children.

Among the groups in Ohio that have organized to monitor and protest what is being taught in the schools are the Ohio Freedom Action Network, Ohio Protect Our Children, the Ohio School Board Constitution Coalition, EmpowerU, and on a more local level, Rocky River Parents for Transparency in an affluent west Cleveland suburb along Lake Erie.

In many cases, the fight has just begun. The battle over how these taxpayer funds are being spent following the approval of school boards is ongoing.

Yet, it has exposed more school districts who are partnering with diversity and inclusion organizations that many parents believe are not only dumbing down the student population, but allowing them to shape the students’ way of thinking, or brainwashing them.

Since the death of George Lloyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May 2020, the rioting in major cities has further leveraged or opened the door for social justice, diversity, and inclusion programs to get into schools, at least one Ohio School Board member told The Epoch Times.

In some cases these programs are causing more racial division, and confusion among children in their sexual identity, officials and parents contend.

Although diversity, all-inclusion, and embrace-individuality related groups have been in schools before, concerns are being raised at alternative topics to which schools are turning.

State officials clearly see some of them as a distraction to education itself.

They believe it will take a multi-faceted approach and a lot of time to repair—and maybe even a committee to review what is being taught in teachers colleges and universities throughout the state.

Part of the problem is what education majors are being taught that they then bring into a community’s school system when they are hired, officials note.

Epoch Times Photo
Ohio School Board member Kirsten Hill says she is seeing Ohio’s education system being damaged and deteriorating under critical race theory and transgender philosophies being taught in the state’s schools. (Courtesy Ohio Board of Education)

“The wheels already were turning of these programs coming into our schools,” said Kirsten Hill, who has served on the Ohio School Board since Jan. 1, 2019 representing northeast Ohio’s District 11.

“The death of George Floyd was just more leverage. After the death of George Floyd, it was like ‘boom!’ All of a sudden we have more of this in our schools.”

Although government officials and school districts often deny that CRT and transgender courses are being taught to the children, the emerging terms of the newer programs and courses are interchangeable with CRT and transgender, Hill said.

Newer terms such as “Comprehensive Sex Education,” JEDI (Justice, Equality, Diversion and Inclusion), Embrace All, YouLEAD, The Colors of Trauma, and even Social-Emotional Learning.

Social-Emotional Learning started out as a traditional component of education, but that, too, is expanding into other areas from what it was originally meant to be, Hill said.

“This is all a continuation of critical race theory and the transgender issue,” Hill added. “The education system is good at denying it, but it’s going on.

“The counsel of the National Education Association is coaching teachers how to present this and how to answer questions when asked about it.”

The programs from these non-profit organizations cost districts upwards of $35,000 to contract with, and taxpayers may not be aware it is coming out of their pockets.

Often an “equity audit” comes with the programs. It allows organizations to consult or tell school officials where their district is lacking and what they need to do, including identifying the teachers they should hire.

Out of the quagmire that the China Communist Party (CCP) virus has caused the world, the United States, and its education system, one thing remote learning has done is to allow parents a look into their child’s classroom.

In a sense, the parents have become “Woke” to what is being taught.

The result has been more parents attending school board meetings.

In 2021, many school districts saw an increased number of candidates run for a seat on their local school board because they don’t like the direction education is heading.

During the Ohio School Board Association’s Conference in Columbus in November 2021, more than 30 out of the dozens of speakers discussed diversity and transgender in their sessions, Hill said.

Money from the federal government’s Cares Act—$6 billion in “pandemic relief” also is available for Ohio schools and is helping schools cover the cost of these programs, Hill pointed out.

Of those funds, one school’s superintendent, Kadee Anstadt, said: “I would call it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape education in a compressed period of time.” Anstadt is superintendent of Washington Local Schools in northwestern Ohio.

“This is coming from every direction,” said Hill, who opposes the philosophies of these programs.

“Someone needs to see what these teachers are being taught in their colleges and by these professional associations. It’s damaging to our education system and to our children.”

Jonathan Broadbent, the father of two middle school-age children, and his wife, Tiffanie, who live in northeast Ohio’s Geauga County, also have been seeing these programs as a problem that was escalating before the death of Floyd and the riots. They first pulled their children out of Beachwood Schools in a desirable east Cleveland suburb. Then, during Thanksgiving break, the Broadbents pulled their children out of West-Geauga Middle School because they saw some of the same things they found objectionable in Beachwood.

Epoch Times Photo
Jonathan Broadbent and his wife, Tiffanie, didn’t agree with the CRT and transgender-based programs being taught at Beachwood Schools in the east Cleveland suburb or at West-Geauga Schools. The Broadbents said they pulled them out of those districts and now home-school their two middle school-age children. (Photo courtesy of Beachwood Schools)

Broadbent said people who disagree with him argue that he is disrupting school board meetings.

“Quite the contrary,” Broadbent told The Epoch Times. “We support academic excellence instead of the divisiveness that these CRT and Transgender courses are causing.”

“It’s rubbish,” he said of the continuing programs. “What’s going on out there is unfathomable. What they’re putting before our children is unbelievable. Things like “Comprehensive Sex Education” can confuse them and scar a child for life. Other parents who are involved in their children’s lives should be very concerned. Critical thinking as we know it for our children in our schools is going to be non-existent if we don’t do something to change it.”

Broadbent is the team lead for Ohio Protect Our Children, a growing grassroots group that attends school board meetings. He monitors slightly more than 200 schools throughout north and northeastern Ohio for the revised and ever-changing buzzwords for transgender courses and critical race theory.

“It’s a racket between the government and these organizations and the government,” Broadbent added of these programs schools are paying for. “Schools are bound by their state board of education to implement policy and course curriculum, or possibly face loss of funding from the federal or state governments if they don’t. So, a lot of school districts are like, ‘OK.'”

Tiffanie Broadbent is a retired schoolteacher who taught in Tennessee, Maryland, and at a charter school in Ohio. She is now home-schooling her children.

When the Broadbents’ children were attending Beachwood schools, there was a program that transformed into “The Color of Trauma,” Broadbent said. The program mentioned phrases like skin color and the importance of becoming an activist—even an activist in the home—multiple times, he said.

So what did Broadbent do? He organized a large group of parents who attended a Beachwood School Board meeting on March 8, 2020, just days before the CCP virus disrupted the world, and the U.S. education system, which had to contend with virtual classrooms and learning remotely.

Broadbent exposed the school board as quietly changing policy that gave teachers a new right to “express their opinions” instead of the current policy in existence since the beginning of the school system:

The rest of that meeting grew in intensity as taxpayers and parents spoke truth to power in the packed school board meeting video.

“It’s amazing to look out there and see the way people are thinking, and the dung they have in their brains,” Broadbent told The Epoch Times of people who are pushing this information on schools.

“We have a lot of people in the fight against this,” he said. “We want more parents to know we’re out here, and you’re welcome to join us.”

“People from all backgrounds came to that meeting,” Broadbent added. “Even black parents spoke out at the meeting and said, ‘quit trying to create more division in our schools.”

Every study including “1776 Unites” shows that “critical race theory” leads to more racism and division.

That Beachwood School Board meeting on March 8, 2020, is considered Ground Zero for the parents’ anti-CRT and transgender issues being taught or promoted in Ohio’s schools. It also earned Broadbent an appearance on ABC’s “Nightline” program.

In addition to the diversity-related groups, there is the state-based program of “Whole Child,” which could be considered an extension of “No Child Left Behind,” that came into schools under the George W. Bush administration.

Whole Child lists eight things more important than the parent in connection to the students, Broadbent noted.

Yet studies show no correlation that these programs increase the performance levels of students, or raise the grade of a district on their state report card, Hill and Broadbent said. Also, white students remain ahead of most black students in performance, and the Asian students remain in the lead over both of those groups.

Most recently, Parma City Schools district, the largest west Cleveland suburb with more than 100,000 residents, contracted with the Diversity Center for Northeast Ohio to help implement its Embrace All program.

Parma schools partnered with the DCNEO to provide annual professional development to staff members in every school. The first workshop topic was “Building Relationships and Creating Inclusive Educational Environments.”

The Diversity Center of Northeast Ohio is a human relations organization that has been dedicated to eliminating bias, bigotry, and racism in Northeast Ohio for over 90 years. Originally founded as the National Conference for Christians and Jews (NCCJ), today they focus on increasing knowledge, raising awareness, and building skills to help create communities that are safe, respectful, and inclusive to all members. The Diversity Center supports workplaces, communities, and schools across seven counties throughout Northeast Ohio.

The Epoch Times submitted questions to Parma Schools Superintendent Charles Smialek through the district spokesperson, asking mostly about the cost to contract with DCNEO, and for a status update on Embrace All. Answers were not provided by the deadline for this article.

Going into the 2020–2021 school year, all classrooms in the Parma City Schools District began displaying an “Embrace All” logo and the following mission statement: “We honor the uniqueness of each individual and embrace diverse backgrounds, values and points of view to build a strong, inclusive community and to prepare students for lives in a multicultural society.”

Schools in the Parma district also offer an extracurricular group “Embrace All.” The club meets monthly and plans activities to help increase the inclusive nature of their school.

Some of the more affluent districts in the west Cleveland suburbs—such as Bay Village, Berea, Hudson, Lakewood, and Rocky River—also have contracted with the Diversity Center of Northeast Ohio.

Epoch Times Photo
More schools throughout Ohio are contracting with the Diversity Center for Northeast Ohio that has caused concern among parents because of the critical race theory and Transgender-related courses they provide. Districts in the affluent west Cleveland suburbs such as Rocky River Schools, also have contracted with DCNEO. (Photo courtesy of Rocky River Schools)

Districts throughout Southwest Ohio, such as in Cincinnati, are contracting with organizations similar to DCNEO as well, Hill said.

Also driving a lot of the CRT and transgender courses on a national level is Chicago-based CASEL (Collaboration for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning. It touts itself as a “lever for equity and social justice.”

These organizations are listed as nonprofits, but many people question that as they reportedly receive government funds and taxpayer funds from the school districts paying to contract them.

Peggy Zone Fisher, CEO of the Diversity Center for Northeast Ohio, and Amanda Cooper, the chief program officer for DCNEO, did not reply to an email from The Epoch Times seeking information, or return phone calls to their office or home phones.

Meanwhile, the transgender issue involving boys or girls playing on teams that were designated for one sex or gender, was challenged by at least one state representative in Ohio—to no avail.

Ohio Rep. Jena Powell (R) of District 80 in southwest Ohio near Dayton, last summer introduced the Save Women’s Sports Act. The legislation would have required schools, state institutions of higher education, and private colleges to designate separate, single-sex sports teams.

Originally introduced as House Bill 61, the Save Women’s Sports Act was added as a floor amendment to Senate Bill 187, which allows college athletes to earn compensation for their name, image, and likeness (NIL).

The amendment passed 54–40, to go to the Senate for consideration.

However, in an executive order signed in late June, Gov. Mike DeWine bypassed the amendment that had caused a ruckus in the General Assembly and resulted in verbal eruptions from Democrats who opposed the amendment.

Many believed DeWine’s executive order delivered a blow to the competitiveness of women’s sports.

DeWine said in opposing Rep. Powell’s amendment: “The welfare of those young people needs to be absolutely most important to this issue, whether that young person is transgender or not.”

In a Facebook post at the time, Powell argued the governor’s decision.

“When Governor Mike DeWine (R) signed the NIL executive order, he turned his back on millions of females in Ohio. His misogynistic dictatorship needs to end. Ohio women deserve better,” she said. “I would say Governor DeWine’s response is from an individual who’s scared of the Woke Left and not willing to stand up for the millions of women in our state.”

“We as representatives are; we as politicians are, and so this is where we have to step in and say: ‘Look, enough is enough’, Powell added. “We have to protect Ohio females.’ So instead of Mike DeWine doing what was right, he pushed the ball down the court and really kind of hid behind that so that Woke corporations wouldn’t come after him.”

“Schools are participating in the elimination of gender activities. They are starting with the boys’ choir, the girls’ choir, and making them a gender-neutral group,” Broadbent noted.

Fighting it out in Columbus are the conservative members of the Ohio School Board such as Hill, and the far left.

Ohio School Board member Meryl Johnson of northeast Ohio’s District 11, had about 40 years of experience as a teacher in the Democratic stronghold of Cleveland. She said in platform that she believes schools should not have an armed police officer (school resources officer) on site.

Johnson also said she believes standardized testing should be eliminated, and that there should be more equity in schools.

During her years of teaching, Johnson helped new and struggling teachers improve their skills through the Educational Research and Dissemination Program, developed by the American Federation of Teachers. She also developed and conducted workshops on cultural competency and trauma-informed education to empower teachers to successfully teach all of their students.

A strong student advocate, Johnson helped students to develop leadership skills by training them in mediation through the Winning Against Violent Environments (WAVE) Program.

Overall, the Ohio Board of Education has 18 members, 11 of whom were elected and seven who are appointed by the governor.

The at-large or members appointed by Gov. DeWine, are usually the ones causing the friction, Broadbent contends.

To which Hill said: “This is government’s way of flexing its muscle and having control of our children with less parental involvement. Schools and education are getting into things they should not be getting into. They are taking over what families, churches, and communities would be handling.”

“There’s a lot of distraction from the traditional form of education going on with this,” Hill added. “These other elements coming into our schools are taking away from students’ ability to learn computing, math, and thinking on their own. What’s happening is too invasive.”

Yet, others, such as Parma Schools Superintendent Charles Smialek, believe there is a social component or responsibility to teach the students regarding diversity, individuality, and not just the transgender issue.

“We’re going to talk to our teachers to make sure they [students] know how to understand, regardless of their identity, they are a valuable member of that classroom,” Smialek said at the beginning of the school year.

“We have to be able to embrace every student,” Smialek said after the district partnered with DCNEO. “We need to ask, ‘what does that student need and how can we make sure that that student feels they’re a valuable part of our school community?’”

Parma also has a tragic connection to the transgender issue that has swept the country in the last few years.

From Jan. 1, 2021, through Nov. 20, 2021, there were 48 transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people who died violently in the United States, according to www.everytown.org.

Two of them were from Ohio. On March 3, Diamond Kyree Sanders, a black trans woman, was 23 when she was shot and killed in Cincinnati. On June 12, Tierramarie Lewis, a 26-year-old black trans woman, was fatally shot in Parma. She had moved to Cleveland the year before for a fresh start.

Illinois had the most transgender-related deaths during that time with six, and Pennsylvania and Texas were second with five each, according to everytown.org.

At least one longtime schoolteacher who teaches elementary school in a district near Dayton and has two children who graduated from a public school, said of the diversity and transgender courses involving inclusion and individuality: “Luckily, we are not having to contend with that foolishness!

“Our (SEL) Social Emotion Learning is basically character education—respect, responsibility, and effort.”

Broadbent’s concluding sentiments echoed that schoolteacher.

“I’m not just concerned for my children, but for children of future generations in what is being taught,” he said. “Education is critical. When parents send their children off to school, it’s to receive an education. Having a good education is what opens doors to the future. Our children should be taught to be strong, patriotic, and not afraid of their masculinity or femininity.”

It was always believed that a two-parent household contributed to a student’s success, Broadbent added  “Even President Barack Obama stressed the importance of a two-parent household. Somehow, we’re supposed to ignore all that now?”

Hill concluded: “The No. 1 thing that is needed to help with this problem is that parents be involved in the school system.”

Michael Sakal is an Epoch Times reporter who covers the state of Ohio.