Three suburban Columbus school districts this past week found themselves the unwitting targets of a sting operation conducted by a conservative media group.
A video released last week on Accuracy in Media’s website features officials from Upper Arlington, Groveport Madison and Bexley school districts talking about critical race theory; social and emotional learning; and diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
Statements from Upper Arlington and Groveport Madison say the officials weren’t aware they were being filmed when they brought up the topics.
The video, which Accuracy in Media claims reveals “public school administrators who are determined to advance the principles of critical race theory even if it becomes illegal,” has made the rounds on social media, racking up thousands of views.
“These radicals are being paid by your tax dollars to deceive you,” Adam Guillette, president of Accuracy in Media, says in the video post Tuesday. “These public school administrators are devoted to promoting social justice in classrooms. They are devoted to teaching your children that America is systemically racist, that capitalism is inherently racist.”
Accuracy in Media didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Some parents are calling the video propaganda.
“Knowledge, not ignorance, people,” one person said to the members of Upper Arlington’s school board during a meeting Thursday evening.
In the video, Matthew Boaz, executive director of diversity, equity and inclusion at Upper Arlington City Schools, can be seen talking to at least two people whom the district says falsely presented themselves to Boaz as parents looking to move to the area.
Boaz says: “You can pass a bill that you can’t teach CRT in the classroom. But if you didn’t cover programming or you didn’t cover extracurricular activities or something like that, that message still might get out. Oops. There will be a way.”
Created by civil rights attorney and law school professor Derrick Bell in the late-70s, critical race theory argues that racism is embedded in American law and the country’s social structures.
In a statement, Upper Arlington Schools Interim Superintendent Kathy Jenney said the couple meeting with Boaz guided the conversation to critical race theory, which is primarily taught at the collegiate level and not in K-12 classrooms.
“We take this matter very seriously and continue to examine the circumstances surrounding the video and the statements made therein,” Jenney said.
Boaz also was filmed talking about the district’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, which Accuracy in Media claims are tenets of critical race theory.
“Those conversations are happening, absolutely,” Boaz said.
Jenney in her statement said the district and the school board “are committed to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and ensuring our schools are places where every student is welcomed, respected, celebrated and supported while receiving the highest quality education.”
“This is a crucial part of ensuring that we live out our mission — to challenge and support every student, every step of the way,” she added.
Parents, community react at Upper Arlington school board meeting
Most of the 20 people who showed up to Upper Arlington’s school board meeting on Thursday evening defended Boaz, while simultaneously expressing disgust with Accuracy in Media. (The board spent much of the time in executive session and no action was taken afterward.)
Betsy O’Brochta, a retired Upper Arlington teacher and mother of children who attended the city’s schools, said the right-wing origins of the video concern her. She also said that an overwhelming number of Upper Arlington residents support diversity and inclusion efforts.
“And I would hope no educational decisions or personnel decisions will be based on what (Accuracy in Media is) pushing,” O’Brochta said.
Groveport Madison objects to Accuracy in Media’s ‘deception and implied representations’
Also appearing in Accuracy in Media’s video is Hilary Staten, an administrative assistant at Groveport Madison Local Schools. At one point she acknowledges the district employs social-emotional learning, which has become a lightning rod for conservative groups.
In a statement, the Groveport Madison district said the couple in the video “manipulated the conversation in an effort to obtain sound bites fitting AIM’s agenda, then removed those statements from context. The employee and the school district object to both the deception employed by AIM and to the implied representations of the video in the strongest possible terms.”
The district also said it is looking into legal options.
While some conservative groups view social and emotional learning as a vehicle for critical race theory, it is defined by the CEO of Urban Assembly, a school support agency, as “the process by which children and adults learn how to solve inter- and intrapersonal problems in order to maximize their ability to flourish across environments.”
Bexley City Schools’ director of human resources Melissa Klosterman-Lando also appears in the seven-minute-long video, though she doesn’t feature as prominently as Staten and Boaz.
Accuracy in Media, which reported about $2.1 million in revenue in 2021, seeks to combat what it views as bias in the mainstream press. The Washington D.C.-based group is led by Guillette, a former vice president for development at Project Veritas, which is known for conducting ambush interviews against liberal groups and journalists.
Before the 2020 presidential election, Project Veritas bought a stolen diary belonging to President Joe Biden’s daughter, Ashley, but never published its contents. Two Florida residents involved in the scheme last year pleaded guilty to the theft of the diary.
In August, Project Veritas was ordered to pay Stanford University nearly $150,000 in legal fees after a federal judge dismissed a defamation lawsuit the group filed against the California school. The following month, a federal jury found Project Veritas had violated wiretapping laws and fraudulently misrepresented itself to Democratic consultants, the New York Times reported.
Monroe Trombly covers breaking and trending news. Cole Behrens covers public safety.