Political Extremism and a Culture of Fear and Intimidation

Academic institutions have historically been bastions of respectful disagreement and vigorous debate of ideas. Increasingly, however, schools have become echo chambers of political extremism. Those who disagree with school leadership are often fearful of expressing themselves, for fear being ostracized as “wrong thinkers.” While this modern challenge is not unique to Columbus Academy, we are deeply concerned about what has become of our school and want to highlight some experiences shared with us by Columbus Academy students, parents, faculty, and staff.

These CA community members include Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Independents, and other political viewpoints. They represent only a small amount of what occurs every day at Columbus Academy.

“On the very first day of school, my freshman child was told by his English teacher that, if any students are supporters of President Trump, then he prefers not to know or else he does not believe he will be able to speak with those students. My child feels as though he has been ‘scared’ to prevent him from engaging in open and well-intended discourse in class, based on this teachers’ open adoption of political extremism, intolerance, and disenfranchisement of students with different views.”

On June 6, 2020, the Director of Diversity and Community Life sent an email to all CA parents. The email gave daily tasks to become “an active ally to the black community.” Included in the email were links to the 1619 project and an “automatic email template” advocating for defunding the police.

“My child used to be excited for school, with a learner’s mindset. The recent overarching political tone has left my child feeling depressed, frustrated, overwhelmed and silenced. My child asked for a psychologist for help, and is currently seeing one.”

On January 15, 2021, Columbus Academy faculty and staff led a “civil disobedience walk out.” The exercise resulted in students being called racist because they “did not get to the gym fast enough.” Other students explained they were called a racist because they “did not go to the gym after the first video interruption.” Some students reported they felt bullied and intimidated and ended up participating because they didn’t want to receive the same negative treatment being experienced by others. Many students reported being called “a racist.”

The exercise was characterized as a tribute to MLK. However, at the direction of faculty, students yelled at their peers, “Malcom X,” ”Black Empowerment,” “You are racist,” and “Silence is Violence.”

The school has characterized this “civil disobedience walkout” as a spontaneous, organic event. To the contrary, it was scripted, edited, and scheduled.

During Hispanic Heritage Month, two parents created a video explaining the history of salsa dancing. They credited the dance, an important part of their culture, to the slave rhythms that were brought from Africa. The Assistant Director of Diversity and Community Life censored the video and removed the word “slave.”

“I think class needs to be focused on English, not politics. There have been quite a few classes when my teacher starts out class by talking about the latest political events or his own political opinion. I would like to learn about English, not be taught someone else’s political opinion. It can be frustrating at times because I feel like I can’t share my own opinion in fear that I will be “wrong” or disliked because my opinion differs from my teacher.”

Columbus Academy’s nine-page United Against Racism statement makes no mention of Asian, Hispanic, or Middle Eastern races. The only race addressed in the statement is African-American.

“My 7 year old is afraid to share her thoughts. She understands at first grade she cannot speak up without ridicule. This became a realization when a previous associate teacher in first grade at CA had the children stand in a circle to declare who they were voting for in the Presidential election.”

Students as young 6th grade are required to discuss gender identity in class.

During summer 2020, Columbus Academy required athletic teams to isolate in pods of nine or fewer students. Yet, during the same period, the school hosted a BLM rally with more than 300 people present.

“My child came home and asked about her Grandfather, who is a retired police officer. My child asked if he did bad things to black people.”

Faculty and staff regularly engage in “cultural competency training” and “anti-bias learning” that “foster racial awareness and anti-racist skills.” These trainings have included teachings from extremist authors such as Ibram Kendi. Kendi has stated, for example, “there is no such thing as a not-racist idea,” only “racist ideas and antiracist ideas.”

On July 30, 2020, during a video call with affinity group parents discussing the history of Columbus Academy, the Director of Diversity and Community Life stated, “what we are dealing with here is 110 years of white supremacy.”

In an August 6, 2020 email, Columbus Academy stated, “One of our school images and marks, the caravel ship, holds a difficult place in history, having been used to transport enslaved African peoples and by colonists responsible for great violence against indigenous peoples in the Americas. Our Board of Trustees has begun conversations about the Caravel and how it reflects our mission, values and ethical standards. As this work may take some time, we are replacing it around campus and in communications in response to learning the pain it causes in our community. You may have already noticed that we have begun using the popular CA-in-shield mark as our primary logo for the school.”

As reported by a teacher, the Head of School compared the 2016 Presidential Election results to 9/11.