A California teacher who questioned spending $250,000 on the “anti-racist” teacher training program Woke Kindergarten is now on an indefinite taxpayer-funded vacation.
Hayward Unified School District teacher Tiger Craven-Neeley was forced to turn in his keys and ordered not to return to his classroom at Glassbrook Elementary on Thursday, just days after he spoke with the San Francisco Chronicle about his concerns with Woke Kindergarten.
District officials assured the news site they would never trample an employee’s freedom of speech and denied Craven-Neeley’s paid administrative leave is related to his comments about the program.
“It’s like a bitter paid vacation on taxpayer dollars,” Craven-Neeley told the Chronicle. “They are totally not taking the students into consideration.”
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The disciplinary action follows tense meetings over the school’s three-year contract with Woke Kindergarten to train teachers how to confront white supremacy, disrupt racism and oppression, and remove those barriers to learning. The approach is based on the perspective that school is hopelessly stacked against minority students.
The curriculum is the brainchild of Akiea Gross, “an abolitionist early educator, cultural organizer and create currently innovating ways to resist, heal, liberate and create with their pedagogy, Woke Kindergarten.”
The motivation behind Glassbrook’s focus on Woke Kindergarten is reportedly to improve student performance and attendance through a curriculum that uses “wonderings” or “unconventional questions rooted in liberatory thought.”
The “wonderings” suggested to teachers include questions like “If we challenge the legitimacy of the Supreme Court, how might we transfer power back to the people?”
And “If the United States defunded the Israeli military, how could this money be used to rebuild Palestine?”
When Craven-Neeley asked administrators what it means to “disrupt whiteness” for his students, he was temporarily banned from training sessions, he told the Chronicle. Comments from trainers about the “so-called United States” during the sessions they said were “not a place to express white guilt,” as well as Woke Kindergarten’s musings on a world without police, money or landlords, raised concerns with the self-described “gay moderate.”
“It slowly became very apparent if you were a dissenting voice, that it’s not what they wanted to hear,” another teacher who questioned the program alongside Craven-Neeley told the Chronicle.
Much of the concern centered on student performance, with test scores falling since Woke Kindergarten came to Glassbrook. Last year, just 12% of the school’s students were proficient in English and less than 3% were at grade level in math.
“Woke indoctrination does nothing to improve students’ reading and math achievement and instead takes critical resources away from things that would have an impact,” OptimaEd CEO and education leader Erika Donalds told CITC. “Low-performing districts should be spending money and time on proven reading and math intervention training, which prepare teachers to help students succeed academically.”
While district officials contend Craven-Neeley’s suspension isn’t related to his comments in the media, they did note the Chronicle’s coverage and national media attention it generated led to the district receiving dozens of “threatening and racist” messages, spokesman Michael Bazeley told the Chronicle.
“I don’t think any teacher or staff member wakes up expecting to be dragged through the mud of the national media,” he said. “They’ve been very resilient, but it has taken its toll.”
Craven-Neeley said his departure followed a heated meeting between staff and administrators that involved some shouting and shoving their fingers in his face, before he was asked to leave.
“I was shocked. This is my school. I didn’t do anything inappropriate,” he said. “I left. I was very shaky.”
He later got an email notifying him not to come back.
Craven-Neeley told the Chronicle he’s now concerned “they’re going to twist things to try to justify retaliation or trying to appease the staff or they’re tired of me being a whistleblower or all of the above.”