Are Shawnee Mission Curriculum Tactics Infiltrating Small Town Values and USD 230 Spring Hill Classrooms?

The Spring Hill Superintendent Immediately Pulled the Inappropriate Freshman Health Textbook Last Month Due to Parental Concerns Yet Did Not Notify the School Board or Parents for almost 1 month After Being Continually Pushed for Transparency by the Parent and a School Board Member

by Jennifer Williams

This has been an ongoing story, under our investigation since August 30, 2023, when a concerned Spring Hill parent contacted the USD 230 Spring Hill School District health teacher regarding the inappropriate content in the new 2023 health textbook, An Invitation to Health by Cengage.

Two weeks after requesting to view the book in person, since the District did not allow the students to bring them home, the parent was finally able to view the book at the District office on September 15, 2023.

Her initial reaction was shock and disgust at the age-inappropriate sexual material being presented to the students, with descriptions of various forms of sexual pleasures, including asphyxiation.

She took photos of the pages that concerned her. Some of those are included at the end of the article.

As she reached out to other parents, elected representatives, and neighbors, she decided to set aside her fear of public ridicule and take a stand. Although she was told by the teacher that her child could opt-out of the days certain material was presented, she did not believe it was fair to have her child be ridiculed for opting out while other young students were still being exposed to inappropriate material that their parents had no way of knowing about.

On September 25, 2023, she returned to the District office to look at the book further and to compare it with the prior health textbook. USD 230 Board members, Ali Seeling and Nicole Melius, joined her.

School District staff met the trio with surprise, which was later disclosed by Board Members that they were accused of “blindsiding” the staff by showing up with the parent to her scheduled viewing.

During the meeting, Dr. Erin Smith, Director of Teaching and Learning, shared several things with the parent and the board members, including her views that the textbook is not considered the curriculum. Instead, she called it “teaching materials.” She referred to the one-page course-syllabus as the “curriculum.”

When questioned why the school board did not review and authorize the textbook, Dr. Smith stated that any materials under $20,000 did not require board approval.

To this, Ali Seeling reminded Dr. Smith that the school board had to read through math textbooks before, and they certainly would also need to approve any new health textbook.

The comments by Dr. Smith, who served as the Coordinator of Curriculum and Instruction in the Shawnee Mission School District from 2015 to June 2021, when she began her new position with USD 230, are concerning.

Not only do they appear to be an orchestrated agenda for the staff to slip through textbooks under the financial threshold without school board approval, but the word games that the inappropriate sexual topics are not part of the “curriculum” since Dr. Smith claims the textbook is not curriculum may further explain how they do things in Shawnee Mission, as shown in the recent controversies when a Shawnee Mission school teacher spoke out against the woke ideology and DEI curriculum.

Shawnee Mission representatives claim “DEI is not a curriculum”, just as Dr. Smith claims textbooks are not the curriculum. Interestingly enough, any web search on the definition of curriculum from education facilities around the country claims that textbooks are the curriculum and are part of the curriculum.

As the parent pointed out to Dr. Smith’s claim that not every topic in the textbook would be covered by the class, “The students have eyes. They can read the parts that are not covered.”

Is this how unelected staff members are getting these indoctrinated materials past the eyes of the parents and into the hands of the students, without the approval of the elected representatives whose job is to follow policy, support the community values, and be the voice of the parents?

It seems that’s the case in the Spring Hill District.

Backtracking to a September 13, 2021, School Board meeting, the subject Investigating Critical Race Theory was discussed when Board members had asked staff if they were teaching CRT.

During that meeting, a presentation prepared by Dr. Erin Smith and ex-assistant superintendent, Brad Wilson, was discussed.

Mr. Wilson (now superintendent at Seaman USD 345) defended CRT. He claimed that “really critical race theory is about attorneys really looking at civil rights and really being able to look at it from a more global or systematic, and we talk about institutionalized racism, but really talking about it in terms of a system-wide issue. So does (sic) the laws of the land really make black Americans really second-class citizens? It does specifically say on the website for the American Bar Association that CRT is not a diversity and inclusion training but it really is a law when you look at race and racism.”

He went on to defend the 1619 Project, saying he’s not an expert but, “As far as I understand, what it tries to do is make hypotheticals that really put it in perspective, a whole different perspective, if something else would have happened, how might America be different? And so it takes things almost to extremes and comes up then with conclusions that might not be what really happened in history but what they would have assumed happened under other situations.”

He went on to state he’s not an expert but claimed, “That’s what I think when I hear people objecting to the 1619 Project. It’s the idea that they’re taking these hypotheticals to what people would say absurd lengths and then drawing these conclusions that they don’t like from it.”

He went on to introduce Dr. Erin Smith by stating, “Dr. Smith probably knows every bit as much if not more than I do on probably all of this, but I am going to let her talk about one of the questions we were asked is, ‘are we teaching CRT’? And so when we asked that question and looked into it, the simple answer is no, but we are teaching about race. We are teaching about institutionalized racism.”

Dr. Smith began her explanation by stating, “Critical Race Theory is not a part of the Kansas State Board of Education’s approved curriculum, so as a local school district that aligns to the State Board of Education, it’s not a part of the Spring Hill School District curriculum either. . . There is no classroom teacher that is currently teaching Critical Race Theory, and no one is using the 1619 Project as a curricular resource.” She also confirmed the district is teaching about “institutionalized racism.”

She went on to discuss the policy of textbooks, assuring the Board that they have input in the process and no textbook would slip through without their approval by stating, “We do have policies regarding our instructional program. Policy IF relates to textbooks and instructional materials, and so it articulates a process, one which I think the Board is probably most familiar with, with a recent math textbook adoption process, involving teacher input, reviewing a number of resources, and then bringing that before the Board of Education. So those materials are vetted by both teachers, myself as part of the Teaching and Learning team, and then shared with the Board for final approval. And there is a process within this Textbook and Instructional Materials policy for any challenges that might come up as well.”

Fast forward to the September 25, 2023 meeting, and Dr. Smith was singing a different tune by claiming the book did not require Board approval since it was less than the $20,000 threshold staff was allowed to spend without Board approval.

During that conversation, Ali Seeling reminded Dr. Smith about the math textbook review that Smith cited just two years before when trying to convince the Board that no textbook would be approved without Board approval.

The Sentinel gives a nice detail of the conversation history and the effort Board member Ali Seeling went to in order to assist the parent in being represented and also making sure the entire issue was transparent for the entire district, including requesting multiple times that the issue be included on the agenda for transparency, even refusing to approve the October agenda if the request was further ignored.

The parent also requested the issue be on the Agenda for the October 23, 2023 meeting, but her request was also ignored. She did speak at the public comment time in order to address the Board about the issue, where she was barred from referencing any staff names.

Commissioner Charlotte O’Hara, speaking as a citizen, also addressed the concerns of inappropriate books in our schools.

Although the details of the particular book review and removal were not initially shared with the Board by staff, Superintendent Dr. Link Luttrell did discuss the Instructional Material Selection Policy during that meeting.

There he also contradicts Dr. Smith’s claims of the monetary threshold by stating, “This particular instance here, I made a big misstep back in July, and we did a purchase of a health textbook back at the high school, that I did not bring it to you all for formal approval . . . It would not have mattered if this textbook had been $25,000 or $10. A textbook or any resource that is serving as the main resource for a course shall, according to the policy, needs to come to the Board of Education. That did not happen, that’s on me, and at the same time I also don’t think, nor do I want individuals to think, that my misstep is an indictment on the whole process, that it is something we have rampant throughout pre-K through12 with having textbooks that are the main source for learning in a class that haven’t been brought because that is not the case. Now this misstep was made. Were there individuals that have lost some trust in that process? I’m sure there have been, and it’s on me. It’s on the District as a whole to make sure that we work hard moving forward to make sure that we follow the policy, make sure that we hold, that I hold myself accountable for that.”

Dr. Luttrell went on to talk about community standards and how things in his initial mindset when he joined USD 230 were different from “what they did back East” versus how things are expected to be done here.

He continued his assurance of the process in place with his introduction of Dr. Smith, who was also there to talk about the textbook policies, by stating, “The purpose of this discussion was precipitated by my error. We do not want that to happen again moving forward. At the same time, we thought we’d review the policy. So Dr. Smith is here and she’s going to kind of walk you through and show you that as a whole, we do have processes in place, they are being adhered to, and she’ll show you some examples of how we try to go about, trying to be as transparent as we can. Again, in this case, it wasn’t done, and that’s on me.”

Dr. Erin Smith presented the District’s Policy IF on materials, including the main core instructional material policy and the supplemental instruction materials policy.

One can see the DEI language trying to slip in with the supplemental policy where it states,

Evaluate Content Quality:
Examine the quality and accuracy of the content. Look for materials that are up-to-date, unbiased, and based on sound educational research. Ensure that the supplemental materials represent diverse perspectives, cultures, and backgrounds to promote inclusivity and equity in education.

The PowerPoint presentation for the evening can be found here.

Board member Nicole Melius spoke up and asked about the procedure for Pilot Programs that were being implemented in classrooms prior to it coming to the Board.

Dr. Smith confirmed that some teaching materials are being presented to the students for about 4-6 weeks, during the pilot program process, to get a short unit of study to make sure the material does what it claims to do and that students are effectively learning the course objectives. She confirmed that the teachers are using that pilot program independently and the Board does not see those materials during that process.

“So I’m trying to wrap my head around that, how does that fall within policy then if it’s presented to the students for 4-6 weeks before it’s approved?” asked Board member Ali Seeling.

“So if it’s the Board’s purview, we can certainly bring pilot materials for approval,” Dr. Smith answered.

“If we’re going to move forward and the curriculum is narrowed down to two selections and you’re trying both, I think the Board should see both selections prior to any pilots or anything being put out.” stated Board member Keith Ewing.

“I agree, and I think that actually the policy is pretty straightforward that all will be reviewed ahead of time,” stated Seeling.

Dr. Smith stated, “We can certainly write that into our procedures.”

Mr. Ewing continued by clarifying his concern that the Board needs to review the pilot curriculum first and that it needs to be written into the Policy.

Mrs. Seeling continued, “I think that the policy reads that way currently, but it just needs to be upheld.” She went on to confirm that the Board of Education can also challenge curriculum as well and not just parents. She requested the slide be updated to include the policy that allows Board members to challenge.

Dr. Smith referenced the Policy IF Request For Review form and the policy for review. Below are key points of that process:

Written Report

Within 30 days of receiving access to the challenged materials, the review committee shall review the material and prepare a written report containing conclusions and recommendations for the Superintendent;

Superintendent Review and Action

The Superintendent shall review the recommendation of the review committee within 30 days of receipt thereof and may accept the review committee s recommendation, reject the review committee s recommendation, or make its own determination regarding the challenged book or material.

Removing Challenged Materials

Challenged materials shall not be removed from use during the review period

Interestingly, the typical policy above requires written complaint, review, and processing time, with the book still in use during the review period. In the case of the health textbook, it was immediately removed by the superintendent on the night of the meeting of the parent with the two school board members, and Dr. Smith. Assistant Superintendent, Dr. Joshua Robinson was present during the meeting, but according to the parent, he only sat at a laptop and did not speak.

The October 23rd board meeting continued with Board member, Nels Anderson, stating, “I would like to make a comment because, granted the health textbook is the latest, but the country is – especially upper big education is – pushing a lot of things on the students and pushing it down further and further even into the elementary schools. Our vision talks about small-town values. To me, that means family values, and certain things just are inappropriate for students, even this textbook looks like it’s written for college-aged students that we’re pushing into high schools. Some people are putting, as it was brought up earlier, library books into elementary schools. And it’s totally against our vision, in my mind. We need somebody in the District, that shouldn’t have to come to the school board, to be protecting our small-town family values. With this, I don’t see it.”

Mrs. Seeling interjected, “I agree, and just to add to that. Even the NEA recently just had a post out celebrating banned book week with ‘What’s your Favorite Book?’ Like they’re almost making fun of the banned books when we’re just trying to protect small-town values. So with library books, there’s got to be a way that we can list all of the books somewhere so that all parents can see what books are available to all students in the District.”

Board President Updike, the same person who emailed Mrs. Seeling with “What is the specific outcome/intent you are looking for by adding this as an agenda item? Please let me know.” seemed to make excuses by claiming, “I think there’s going to come a day when you’re not going to be able to find a text that you can be happy with. It’s just that hard to find them.”

Board member Keith Ewing spoke up and stated, “I agree with Nels’s point. I think to this point though, while we still can, we need to follow what we say we’re going to do. That’s just my opinion and I know that it could be controversial, but I think while we still can, we need to uphold those values that we say we do.”

Dr. Luttrell again apologized for not bringing the text to them, and stated the dialog has been healthy. However, it appeared that he tried to soften the move by mentioning that each district is different on what they consider appropriate. He seemed to try to slant the conversation by claiming Policy IF leads a lot of ambiguity and gray area. He pushed the ideology that the District has talented instructors and staff who are very skilled and capable of making their own decisions instead of bringing every little decision to the Board.

He continued stumbling through a speech by pointing out that the policy states, “We don’t want to spend every single moment at every meeting looking at instructional materials. . . Let’s take some pause after tonight . . . It may be that we have the Board appoint maybe one or two individuals that maybe could work with Dr. Smith and myself and maybe a few others. Because it does state very clearly there down at the bottom that the superintendent shall develop selection procedures, which will include review of available materials . . . and by appropriate staff members. . . So maybe it’s time that we make sure that we’ve got definitely selection procedures. . . We would have a handbook on ‘this type of material, definitely you should bring that. This one here, we’re going to trust the principal that they’re gonna know that that was something that could be brought’ . . . after we get that selection criteria developed . . . with maybe Dr Smith . . . we feel this is aligned with Policy IF. . . And we can do some of the work behind the scenes rather than taking up a lot of time here. Even while this is very important work, there’s a lot of other work we’ve gotta try to devote time to at our meetings.”

Vice President Sharon Mitchell spoke up claiming, “I don’t want to put this toward this book because I think there were lots of things that were questionable, at the very least, but you can really take offense to about anything. There may be things in our individual family that we don’t adhere to certain things, but to not allow that in the school I think would be kind of hard. . . You also need to have some room for lots of differing views. . . I don’t have this sense that our District is infiltrated with all this questionable stuff that people are putting on our kids. I really don’t have that, but I do think we have a responsibility with the Board of Education to protect our kids. . . but also we can’t personally read every textbook so things also have to be practical. We don’t want to stand in the way of choosing the best curricular material and make that a yearlong process when really it could be a 3-4 month process . . . So we’ve got to be able to have some trust . . . so it doesn’t all fall on the Board of Education.”

Mrs. Melius stated, “I do agree. I have read two textbooks in the last few weeks, and it is not enjoyable. But I hear a lot about trust. We have to trust people, we have to trust people, our administrators and our teachers and all of that. And I think the piece that is missing in this, and I’ve said it before, is the accountability piece. And I don’t think I understand what the accountability piece is. So we’re trusting them, but when that trust is broken or things are following the policies, where’s the accountability? . . . Because I think that’s where you build trust, knowing that when things break or fall apart, there’s an accountability piece.”

Ali Seeling spoke up agreeing that accountability and trust need to be there. “Dr. Luttrell, I just need to say that I don’t believe all of this falls on your shoulders.”

She continued with some follow-up questions that had not been answered, confirming 13-14-year-olds were accessing books that were never going home. “This book was in circulation and given to the students for 6 weeks and a day from the beginning of school until September 26th when it was pulled, so what are we doing to alert the Freshmen parents that are now finding out about this publicly? If they’re wanting to review the book . . . The reason we know about this book is that student had access to the book and multiple students saw it . . . so even if it wasn’t something planned, it still was given to the students . . .and the parent that spoke really just scratched the surface of many of the topics. So do we have a plan if the Freshmen parents would like to review the book before we send them back?”

“There has not been a mass communication to the Freshment parents,” stated Dr. Luttrell, “and again that is on me. I’m more than happy myself to write a communication to the parents to let them know what happened.” He stuttered on, explaining that the students didn’t have access to the books every day.

“I’d caution on downplaying the access to the books, because the students saw, even if it was just one day,” stated Mrs. Seeling.

Dr. Luttrell released the following statement yesterday.

Although Mrs. Mitchell doesn’t believe the District is infiltrated, parents and community members don’t necessarily agree.

Over the past four weeks, Free State News has been waiting for the District to reply to a laundry list of questions emailed by the parent to Dr. Smith and Dr. Luttrell, with no complete answers given to date. We were waiting for the item to be put on the agenda to notify the entire board and the community. We were waiting on a public statement to parents, but nothing happened for a month, and only then after the parent and Mrs. Seeling continued to push for transparency.

It is understood that a true leader, such as a superintendent, is responsible for the actions of their team, but it is the suspicions of many that he is covering for Dr. Erin Smith’s actions.

From her immediate defense that the $20,000 policy excluded her procurement of the book from board review (which contradicted her statements to the board in 2021) to her wordplay that textbooks aren’t curriculum, to her refusal to fully answer the parent’s questions, even allowing the pilot program textbooks without board approval, against the current policy. All of these behaviors create justifiable concerns that the Spring Hill small-town values are possibly under attack by outsiders, from other districts, who are bringing a “woke” ideology and mindset into the community.

Even Dr. Luttrell’s comments that he’s still trying to get things in alignment with how USD 230 does things compared to how they do them “back East” – parents rightfully should be concerned that larger agendas from other Districts, State and National teacher’s unions and boards of education, and those of some far-left individuals are infiltrating staff and non-elected positions that fall off the radar of parental supervision and oversight.

It is imperative that an elected Board of Education, which aligns with the community standards and values, continue to be the shield of protection for parents, students, and the community as a whole.

The concerned parent and others are grateful for the District’s immediate action on this item, but the underlying concerns of “where else has this happened, and will it happen again?” are still justifiably present.

There is a larger agenda at play, as mentioned in the meeting, and “trusting more” is not the answer. Holding everyone accountable to the stated policy and community values and having final review and oversight by an elected board representing the parents is imperative for a system of checks and balances and in protecting students and the community from outside infiltration.

  • The Gender Spectrum
  • Responsible Sexual Behavior
    • Creating a Sexually Healthy Relationship
    • Making Sexual Decisions
    • Saying No to Sex
  • Sexual Behavior
    • Sexual Initiation: “Having Sex” for the First Time
    • Sex on Campus
    • Hooking Up
    • Friends with Benefits
    • Choosing Sexual Partners
    • Romantic Relationships
    • Ethnic Variations
  • Sex in America
  • Sexual Diversity
    • Heterosexuality
    • Homosexuality
    • Bisexuality and Pansexuality
    • Asexuality
  • Sexual Activity
    • Celibacy
    • Abstinence
    • Fantasy
    • Pornography
    • Masturbation
    • Nonpenetrative Sexual Activity (Outercourse)
    • Intercourse
    • Oral Sex
    • Anal Stimulation and Intercourse
    • Sexual Response
    • Sexual Concerns
    • Sexual Difficulties and Dysfunctions
    • Sex Therapy
    • Drugs and Sex
    • Atypical Behavior

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