By A.V. Benford | OBSERVER Staff Writer
A Natomas school board meeting erupted in hot emotion and was shut down abruptly by Superintendent Chris Evans last week. This came after what he says were numerous online threats leveled at staff, the board and their families, and even more threats in the lobby outside the meeting.
Why the community uproar? An undercover video of a Natomas high school Advanced Placement Government teacher, speaking at a Sacramento restaurant in support of antifa and saying he wanted to turn his students into “revolutionaries.”
Project Veritas, the controversial activist organization that produced the video, says it was in response to non-action by the district after parent and student complaints about the teacher (whose name we are not disclosing due to threats against their family). The Natomas Unified School District, after an initial investigation, says it did not find any records of complaints about the teacher.
Superintendent Evans has no idea why the teacher made the remarks and spoke in such a “casual and unprofessional manner” in the video. He believes that the teacher thought they were responding to a parent, who told them they had just moved to Sacramento from Florida, not an undercover activist.
Throughout the highly edited recording, the teacher expounds upon their teaching philosophy, describing how they ask students to publicly post their ideological affiliations on a left-to-right spectrum, and their feeling of pride as those postings moved farther and farther left over the school year.
Evans called it “biased instruction designed to lead students to a specific ideology.” He is very clear that the classroom is a place of “trust,” and that the teacher’s methodology ”crossed a line” because he emphasized that students convert to his political beliefs.
“We should have caught it earlier,” Evans said.
Terminating A Teacher
As early as 2019, images of the teacher’s classroom, in Inderkum High School’s student newspaper Tiger Talk, show communist propaganda on the walls, according to Evans.
The classroom was visited over 25 times for evaluations, but Evans maintains that “there was no one at the site who knew that the class was as imbalanced and biased as it was.”
In a statement from September 1, the Natomas school board outlined in detail some of the policies violated, including advocating for ballot measures and political campaigning on school grounds.
Within two days of the video going viral, the teacher was placed on leave. After an additional two-day investigation, the district had begun the legal proceedings to fire them. The teacher has not responded to requests for an interview.
The Natomas school board is calling for the release of the full unedited video so that they can evaluate the context in which the teacher’s statements about “others.” According to Evans, the teacher says they were referring to “others” who share similar methods of teaching, but from an engagement standpoint, not a political one.
A Community Reacts
Parents aren’t so sure.
Latching onto the idea of a faction of biased and inappropriate teachers at Inderkum High School, community members demanded a deeper investigation into curriculum practices in the district at a September 1 meeting.
The teacher was referred to as an “idiot” and a “bully” as parents screamed accusations of “indoctrination over education” and child abuse.
Jennifer Lane, a parent in the district, commented that the lack of involvement in the teacher’s curriculum was a part of a long process of taking away parental rights and participation in the process of education.
“We were silent when you took away religious and medical exemptions and made vaccinations mandatory,” Lane said, referencing laws passed in recent years that require vaccinations for public school attendees against diseases like measles.
Timothy Snowball is a lawyer who blamed the fracture over curriculum on the teachers’ unions.
“These entities no longer consider themselves to be organizations advocating for the hours, the wages, the working conditions of the members, but rather social justice organizations pushing for the arousal of a full agenda to tear down and transform American society,” Snowball said.
Parent Richard Gilbert spoke about how some of his best experiences in high school were discussing news and current events in class, “but never once did I know how my teacher felt about those things.”
He had his “suspicions,” but wasn’t sure whether his teacher was a Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative.
Photos and videos from the board meeting show “community members” in paraphernalia associated with the Proud Boys, a far-right group whose members were involved in planning the raid on the U.S. Capitol on January 6. One gentleman wearing a black bandana as a mask and thick rimmed glasses sported a “Make America PROUD Again” hat.
A Different View
Community advocate Sonia Lewis, who was not at the meeting, asked “What’s the problem with teaching students to be revolutionary?”
Lewis has been an educator for over 20 years and is also a member of the Sacramento Unified District’s African American Advisory Board. In early July, AAAB called for the firing of Katherine Sanders, a teacher recorded using racist language in her Sacramento elementary Spanish class. Two months later, that teacher is still on paid leave.
Lewis sees hypocrisy in the way Sanders and the teacher at Inderkum have been treated.
She knows the Natomas teacher from her work in the community and believes that, while their statements on the undercover video were “boastful,” the teacher did not deserve to be fired. She sees no problem with his teachings on being a revolutionary because “revolution means change.”
“All kids should be revolutionaries. Education is a powerful tool,” Lewis said. “If I were a math teacher, I would have 180 days to change my students from being unsuccessful at math to being successful.”
She is an advocate for equipping every child with the “tools to advocate for themselves, their community and the less privileged.”
The Next Steps
The Natomas district has asked Project Veritas to view the complete and unedited video of its conversation with the teacher.
Until then, Superintendent Evans has thanked the group for bringing the video to the district’s attention. He says he is very grateful for the information about the teacher’s classroom, even though it came to light in a “highly unusual manner.”
He says he wants to know “where our system may have failed our students.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: A.V. Benford is a Report For America Corp Member and an Education Reporter for Cap Radio News and The Sacramento Observer. Support for this Sacramento OBSERVER article was provided to Word In Black (WIB) by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. WIB is a collaborative of 10 Black-owned media that includes print and digital partners.