Tustin School Board Emails Ignite Critical Race Theory Concerns

By Jack Bradley
Jack Bradley
Jack Bradley
Jack Bradley is a daily news reporter for The Epoch Times based in Southern California.
June 8, 2021 Updated: June 9, 2021

Parents of children in the Tustin Unified School District (TUSD) say they’re frustrated after the school board’s emails exacerbated their fears of critical race theory (CRT) being taught in schools.

After a group of about 20 parents learned their children were given a “white savior assignment” and “healthy kids” survey—which they said contain elements of CRT—without their knowledge, they submitted a public records request for all information and communication regarding these assignments.

They said the June 2 emails they received only made them more upset.

In a March 31 email from TUSD Superintendent Gregory Franklin to assistant superintendent Christine Matos, Franklin is shown approving the “white savior assignment.”

“I took a look at the white savior assignment,” Franklin said in the correspondence. “I think it’s a good assignment in the ethnic studies course … not so sure about a high school English course.”

In an English honors class at Foothill High School in Tustin, a substitute teacher gave students a “white savior assignment,” tasking teens with writing about a “white savior complex” in reference to the book To Kill a Mockingbird, parent Syndie Ly told The Epoch Times.

“The teacher had them do a white savior complex assignment and they were linking it to an English literature book … and the teacher put it up on the whiteboard,” Ly said.

A district spokesperson said the substitute teacher who offered the unauthorized assignment to students will no longer be teaching that class.

Ly also said her son in TUSD was recently given a “healthy kids” survey during class, in which he was asked “racial questions.” One of the questions asked whether the boy had ever experienced racism, she said.

TUSD spokesperson Mark Eliot said the state survey is meant to assess “school climate and student health factors, which are linked to academic performance, positive youth development and well-being.”

He said the district won’t incorporate critical race theory into its curriculum, but will offer an elective ethnic studies class for high school students.

“[It] is an inclusive, interdisciplinary course allowing students to think about the world and consider cross-cultural contexts,” Eliot told The Epoch Times. “Students will develop a better understanding of social and cultural perspectives in the United States, as well as celebrate and honor the cultural wealth and contribution of all people in our country.”

The Epoch Times reached out to each TUSD board member, but didn’t receive a response by press time.

Another email sent by board member Allyson Damikolas to supervisor Franklin on May 16 said: “I had a comment on the ethnic studies presentation, the second bullet saying that ‘it is not aligned with CRT’ is slightly inaccurate in my opinion. I think it would be more accurate to say that it is ‘not the same as CRT’ or something like that.

“The ideas that we recognize that systems are not always fair because of race, and we value diversity, is a component of CRT. It’s complicated and nuanced I admit, but that bullet in particular will be scrutinized by that opposing parent group.”

Ly accused the board member of trying to “soften the language.”

“It is part of CRT,” Ly said. “Because CRT has such a negative connotation, they’re trying to get around it.

“We felt like [this is] indoctrination, that it really should not be taught,” Ly said. “Parents have the responsibility of teaching the kids values; CRT is really teaching kids that they should look at others based upon their race and color and not value the person for who they are.”

Jon Schrank, who has a child in TUSD, said he has contacted the school board several times to raise concerns and ask questions.

He said he hasn’t received a response.

“The school district has not been super forthcoming with the information that this was coming our way,” Schrank told The Epoch Times.

“I write them emails, and the school board doesn’t even acknowledge them,” he said. “At least Franklin—the superintendent—somewhat acknowledges that I’ve asked a question. He may not answer it, but at least he acknowledges it. The rest of them, it just falls on deaf ears.”

Matt Stoutenburg, father of two TUSD students, said the board isn’t in tune with the parents of the district’s students.

“There has been no parental survey questionnaire or acceptance testing gone on,” he told The Epoch Times. “They’re delivering a take-it-or-leave-it type approach.”

Jack Bradley
Jack Bradley
Jack Bradley is a daily news reporter for The Epoch Times based in Southern California.