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Racial Tensions Continue To Roil Lee's Summit School Board

Elle Moxley
KCUR 89.3
Lee's Summit Superintendent Dennis Carpenter told school board members they should release him from his contract if they can't trust him to lead.

The Lee’s Summit school board remains deeply divided over issues of race and equity, a week after voting down a plan to bring in consultants for diversity training.

At a tense work session Wednesday night, newly elected board member Mike Allen accused the district’s first black superintendent, Dennis Carpenter, of only caring about black students.

Carpenter responded, “I will not let you do this. Tell me when I said I was here for the black kids only.”

Carpenter, who was hired in 2017, has been advocating for an equity plan for months despite pushback from white parents. The board approved a plan in February, two months before Allen and another new board member, Judy Hedrick, were voted in. Hiring a firm to provide diversity training was supposed to be the first step, but Allen, Hedrick, board president Julie Doane and board member Kim Fritchie voted down a proposal to hire Educational Equity Consultants for $97,000.

“We do (requests for proposals) in this district every single month,” Carpenter said Wednesday. “There’s never been one scrutinized like this one for equity. You’ve held up our progress.”

Also, Carpenter reiterated Wednesday that if the board did not trust him to lead, they could release him from his contract.

The work session was supposed to move the conversation around diversity training forward, but there was very little agreement about how the district should proceed.

“Are we willing to vote for a plan that incorporates unconscious bias training, implicit bias and white privilege?” asked board vice president Ryan Murdock, who along with board members Jackie Clark and Dennis Smith cast, the “yes” votes last week. “If we don’t believe those terms exist, we’re not going to get a plan passed.”

Doane, who bristled at the term “white privilege” last week, conceded she had a lot to learn. But it’s unclear where the board goes from here. After Wednesday’s hour-long work session, the board adjourned to closed session to discuss the matter further.

Adrienne Taylor, the parent of two current Lee’s Summit students and one graduate, told KCUR a teacher once called her son a “chunky monkey,” likely without realizing it was a racial slur.

“When we talk about microaggressions, it’s the little things. It’s a paper cut. You have a paper cut here, a paper cut there, and over time, that pain starts to build, and you start to feel unsafe in the environment with the people and adults who were meant to protect you,” she said.

Although frustrated with the process, Taylor said she hoped it would help people realize why the district needs diversity training.

Elle Moxley covers education for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley

Frank Morris is a national correspondent at KCUR 89.3. Follow him on Twitter @franknewsman.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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