Centreville, MD – When Andrea Kane sat down to write a letter Days after George Floyd’s death in 2020 to parents in his school district, pictures of a black man pleading for his life below the knee of a white Minnesota police officer were haunting him.
Superintendent Dr. Kane saw her on the faces of the black students in her district and heard her cry for her mother as she spoke to her sons. So she began her letter with a warning that it would not only be “good news” but “a little reality check.”
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the high-performing district on Maryland’s east coast closed out the year with great pride. But like the rest of the country, Dr. Kane said, the community faced another crisis.
“Racism is alive in our country, in our state, in Queen Anne’s County and in our schools,” she wrote in the letter, emailed to the parents of all 7,700 students in the district.
his statement reflect hundreds The release was issued by superintendents across the country in the wake of Mr Floyd’s death and the massive protests that followed. Many teachers took the opportunity to renew their commitment to racial justice in their schools.
But the message from Dr. Kane, the first black superintendent of Queen Anne’s County Public Schools, will engulf the small, predominantly white community along the Chesapeake Bay in a year-long firestorm.
“When I hit send,” Dr. Ken recently recalled, “Everything just exploded.”
Over the past year, the protests and reflections inspired by Mr. Floyd’s death echoed in school districts across the country, as school boards and legislatures reconsider how and what students should learn about race and racism, against slavery and segregation. From History to Black Lives Matter Movement.
The debate has sometimes focused on the K-12 curriculum, when conservative activists began to brand a number of topics as “critical race theory”, including history lessons and diversity initiatives, an academic framework that legislates racism. and assumes inherent in other modern institutions. The term is now often deployed in American classrooms to attack any discussion of race and racism – pitting teachers who feel obligated to teach the realities of racism against predominantly white parents and politicians. Those who believe that schools are forcing white children to feel ashamed of their race and the country.
The superintendents are bearing the brunt of this. Some have been threatened, harassed and fired over allegations they are seeking to “educate” children. Books, History Lessons and Equity Policies, AASA, School Superintendent Association President Daniel A. Domenec, who represents about 14,000 district leaders nationwide.
Particularly for black teachers, the opposition has felt personal and touching. According to the AASA’s latest count, only 2 percent of the nation’s superintendents are black, and there are many expect that number to shrink.
Michael D. McFarland, president of the National Alliance of Black School Educators, said that many African American school administrators are already unfairly branded as activists, and are investigated for any alleged wrongdoing.
Particularly in majority-white communities, Dr. “It’s hard for you to do the job you were hired to do,” McFarland said as a superintendent, “let alone take a stand on issues of equity and social justice.”
“There is a heavy price to be paid for taking those stances,” he said.
Dr. Ken thought long and hard about the cost of keeping quiet.
She knew the Black Lives Matter movement was divisive—even in the black community—but that didn’t make the mantra any less true. She felt that she would have been careless in her role if she had not addressed the images her students were seeing on television. “How could I not help them understand that a black body was being destroyed in the street?” he said.
Keeping all this in mind, he agonized over every word of the letter he had written. June 5, 2020.
“When I say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ I don’t mean to offend any other race,” she wrote. “It is an acceptance of the unequal brutality and open racism experienced only by black people in America, myself included.”
A spark spreads on Facebook
Dr. Kane’s inbox grew in the days that followed, with responses of gratitude and support. But a month later, an email appeared with the subject line “urgent attention needed.”
Dr. Ken recognized the name of the parent who sent it: Gordana Schiffanelli. A few weeks ago, someone alerted the superintendent of the Kent Island Patriots, a new Facebook group created by Ms Schiffanelli, with its name in reference to a part of the county. The members of the group were creating a ruckus over his letter.
In a June 16 post to the group, according to screenshots provided to the group, Ms. Schiffanelli declared: “Dr. Ken needs to terminate his contract at QAC and go! People in this group should call out and make it loud and clear that the school must remain apolitical and that its letter to parents promoting Black Lives Matter will not be tolerated. “
The post went on: “Kids should know that people who died in police custody were criminals – not heroes! Our kids will never be motivated by someone’s political opinion in school and our kids should never feel like they have fair skin Makes them guilty of slavery or racism!
By the time Ms. Schiffanelli wrote a letter directly to Dr. Kane on July 6, the Facebook group had grown to 2,000 members.
In her letter, Ms. Schiffanelli said she had lost faith in Dr. Kane’s ability to lead the district. Describing herself as “an immigrant to this country”, Ms Schiffanelli said, “I am a living example of the American dream that you managed to tarnish with your racist comments.”
But Dr. Ken did not budge.
In about three years on the job, he had collected evidence of systemic and blatant racism in a semi-rural, conservative county where only 6 percent of the student body is black. She knew that black students who regularly heard the n-word used in county schools were unqualified and over-disciplined.
Under his leadership, the district began collating the data to examine differential achievement gaps between black and white students. It also signed contracts with firms focused on equity work, including helping school staff build positive relationships within a diverse student population and increasing students’ access to educational opportunities such as advanced courses.
Tyene Wright, then a senior at Kent Island High School, was encouraged by portions of Dr. Kane’s school-year-end letter, which included “white and black people to come together in nonviolent protest.” “was praised and Which urged the community to “listen more and make less decisions”.
Ms. Wright sought Dr. Kane’s support in organizing events following Mr. Floyd’s death that would bring Queen Anne’s County to a national level.
superintendent participated in a protest organized by Ms. Wright in early July. She also accepted the young woman’s request to invite a local organization called Students Talking About Race, or STAR, to facilitate voluntary discussions over the summer. The group has been organizing similar events in neighboring countries.
Ms. Wright said that Dr. Kane’s support had given her rarely the opportunity to give black students in Queen Anne’s County: “I had a chance to use my voice.”
During the rest of the summer, tensions mounted. The Kent Island Patriots, angered by Dr. Kane’s support of the programs that Ms. Wright had planned, circulated a petition calling for Dr. Kane to be fired. A semi-government community group called the Sunday Supper Committee—a predominantly white group of county residents who have been negotiating racism and equity since 2016—created a Dr. Ken. petition in support of.
Mary Ella Jourdak, a member of the Sunday Supper Committee, said of Dr. Kane, “When he said Black Lives Matter, we stood behind him very proudly, because it’s something we believed in.” “And we thought it was important to come from a black community leader.”
in August, Dr. Ken. a rally in support of Attracted more than 100 residents and supporters, including members of civil rights groups from across the state.
Dr. Ken thought show of support Until she sees more posts from the Kent Island Patriots Facebook group that summer, the uproar will be over. According to Screen shot made public on social media, and others provided the Times, commentators used the N-word. One post called black people “beasts”. One meme made fun of black people who were killed by police with the words: “I can’t be quiet.” One commenter posted a photo of a cotton field, which read, “Free BLM shirt. Some combination required.”
Ms. Schiffanelli declined to be interviewed for this article. In an emailed statement, she said: “As an immigrant from this country, which has found love and peace among people of all races, backgrounds and beliefs, I have found political activism in public schools to be abhorrent and disrespectful to children in my community.” found contrary to the best interest of the State and the entire country.”
Her lawyer and husband, Mark Schiffanelli, sent a screenshot of a Facebook post in which Ms Schiffanelli said she was “intimidated” by the racist comments on the Kent Island Patriots page and threatened to remove group members who wrote them.
Mr. Schiffanelli also denied that Ms. Schiffanelli’s opposition to Dr. Kane had anything to do with her race. In Interviews with conservative media outletsMs. Schiffanelli, who is a lawyer and an adjunct professor at the United States Naval Academy, pointed to her experience in Yugoslavia developing as a driving force.
“I was one of those kids who grew up in a communist country,” she said hosting a conservative podcast“And I had Communists coming to my high school and dragging me out of class to join their Marxist organization, and I didn’t want to go.”
He called ‘Kent Island Patriot’ Speed was spreading to neighboring countries. “We just want common sense back, and we’re taking our country back,” she said.
‘Heartbreaking’ attacks by parents
Christine Betley was one of the first teachers in the district to speak up when she noticed growing discord in the community, sending a letter to the school board in support of Dr. Kane’s efforts. She moved to the county in 2019, and was blindsided due to hostility towards the superintendent.
Known as the route to the beaches of Maryland, the county’s history is steeped in the fishing and agricultural industries. It is one of the state’s last Conservative strongholds: More than 60 percent of its voters have voted in the last two presidential elections, with Donald J. Supported Trump. But the idyllic, laid-back life on the water has increasingly attracted progressives.
Ms Betley said last summer was a “real eye-opener” at how “the depths of inequality between white and black and brown students were hidden in the dominant culture.”
“I didn’t know there was a structure that was intended to keep it that way,” she said.
A Facebook group in which Ms Beatley and other teachers joined to communicate about the pandemic quickly led to Dr. Kane’s star became a forum for defending the support of the discussions.
The teachers’ post, which expressed alarm that perhaps an outside white supremacist group had infiltrated the county, caught the attention of the Kent Island Patriots. On the group’s page, Ms Schiffanelli posted teachers’ names and discussions, accusing them of supporting “political brainwashing of our children using race”.
What followed — weeks of online harassment — was devastating to fifth grade teacher Gina Kruk. She was a native of Queen Anne’s County, the daughter of a Chesapeake Bay waterman. He county…