A California Distinguished School is seen in a file photo. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Many Americans, like the 68 percent majority who support the Supreme Court’s ruling against race-based college admissions (based on a January 2024 Gallup poll
), are becoming weary of the constant drumbeat of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). The woke DEI agenda replaces equality with equity, merit with shallow skin-color representation, and free speech with ideological conformity.
Oftentimes, the woke agenda justifies the recruitment and promotion of woefully unqualified individuals to important leadership positions, which inevitably hurts the integrity and competitiveness of the institutions that hired these individuals. Recent developments in the Poway Unified School District (PUSD) are a perfect example of how ideology overtakes merit to damage public education and erode public trust.
In April 2017, the PUSD, a top-performing K-12 public school district in San Diego, confirmed Marian Kim Phelps as its new superintendent in an ostensible bid for diverse leadership. Since then, the school district has actively promoted antiracism
, and restorative justice
The all-encompassing campaign to inculcate students and staff into upholding DEI and critical race theory has caused
concerns and disapproval among parents and community members, while PUSD students’ test scores suffered
In 2021, the PUSD rolled out two ethnic studies courses as part of its “Racial Equity” program. Astonishingly, the curriculums and the equity plan cited
works of Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo prominently—both outspoken promoters of critical race theory (CRT). The pivot towards teaching CRT in classrooms prompted parents and residents to protest
in front of the school board multiple
Parents concerned about critical race theory (CRT) took home buttons like this from a school board activist training put on by the The Leadership Institute in Sarasota, Fla., on Jan. 19, 2022. (Nanette Holt/The Epoch Times)
In 2022, I exposed a PUSD middle school for using a “Wheel of Power” graph in professional development training, which promulgated the idea that certain group identities are oppressors while others are oppressed. Upon receiving complaints from parents, the school district pulled
the graph. In the same year, a biracial father was reprimanded by PUSD officials for probing into its equity programs, which led
to a civil rights complaint filed by me on behalf of the Californians for Equal Rights Foundation.
Struggles between PUSD’s equity-minded bureaucrats and those who want real education reached a boiling point when a lawsuit
was filed against the PUSD Board and Ms. Phelps in November 2023. The legal filing, along with a wave of organized grassroots protests, makes the case
that the PUSD leadership engaged in conflicts of interest, and the superintendent retaliated against those who challenged her in her effort to help her daughter gain recognition and popularity on the high-school softball team. The dissenters charge that the school board intentionally covered up the issues to defend the status quo and their power structure, at the expense of integrity and public trust.
According to the district, Ms. Phelps has been placed
on paid administrative leave while an outside law firm conducts an independent investigation.
In Poway, local organizing and legal risks worked hand in hand as the impetus for a long-overdue redress away from the DEI craze. Behind the grassroots campaign are courageous parents, students, teachers and residents who showed up at every school board meeting to demand transparency and accountability. The local community was activated and mobilized by the PUSD Community Watch
(PCW), a local watchdog that has built trust and awareness on the issue.
Demonstrators gather in front of Los Alamitos Unified School District Headquarters in protest of critical race theory teachings in Los Alamitos, Calif., on May 11, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
This is a solid win for local stakeholders who organized effectively to exert consistent pressure on the leadership. It is also a cause to celebrate for those, including my group the Californians for Equal Rights Foundation (CFER), who believe that the key to win the culture war is strategic local organizing. In the case of Poway, we offered research analysis and technical support to the community watchdog. In the meantime, CFER President Frank Xu, a Poway resident, participated in the success by speaking up at PUSD’s recent board meetings on Nov. 9
, Nov. 15
, Dec. 14
, (and again
at the same meeting), and Jan. 18
Our strategy, detailed
during CFER’s 2023 conference, involves building up “Queen” organizations at the school district level to monitor education policies, organize parents and others, and effectively challenge the teachers’ unions. It has worked.
The weakening of PUSD’s DEI “educracy” did not happen coincidentally or in a vacuum. This success story also mirrors an earlier victory
in the San Dieguito Union High School District, where its DEI-focused former superintendent was removed due to our efforts to educate and encourage parents. We are strategically moving forward against illiberal forces and ideologies which are attacking America’s foundational values, parental rights, and education. In time and with persistence, we shall prevail.