By Suzanne Perez Kansas News Service
WICHITA, Kansas — Debate over a white privilege video dominated Derby’s school board meeting this week, with one board member linking the video to critical race theory and others saying they support his message and the director who shared it.
More than 100 people crammed into boardrooms and an overflow room for Monday’s meeting. Many wore green ‘Team Hamblin’ t-shirts in support of Derby High principal Tim Hamblin.
Hamblin has spoken publicly for the first time since the controversy began, saying he shared the video with teachers in January after learning of race-based attacks on social media against two black students.
“’See something, say something.’ It’s on the Derby homepage. It’s in every building in this neighborhood,” Hamblin said. “I was trying to teach kids how they can help others.”
Hamblin emailed his staff last month apologizing for showing the video. He said an anonymous employee complained to a school board member that the video was offensive and created a hostile work environment.
The video features black author Joy DeGruy telling a story about being treated differently in a store because of her race. A lighter-skinned family member “used his white privilege and … pointed out the injustice,” DeGruy says in the video.
School board member Andy Watkins emailed Superintendent Heather Bohaty about the video on Feb. 6.
“I truly believe the community/bosses in our district would disagree with this video,” Watkins said in the email. He said students and teachers who watched it should get an apology or an explanation.
“Do we need some kind of policy that talks more about bashing one race over another (which seems like common sense but may be necessary to prevent a video like this in the future)?” Watkins wrote in the email.
“I really need to understand your position on this video because I think it dictates what possible next steps look like and other questions.”
Council members were due to review Bohaty’s contract the next day.
On Monday, Watkins said he raised concerns about the video because he believes the terminology used in it “has a direct connection to critical race theory,” and he feared “making this terminology… the norm”.
Critical Race Theory is not taught in Kansas K-12 schools, but its core idea holds that racism is embedded in American culture and politics. Some critics say conversations about white privilege can make people feel uncomfortable and accelerate racial strife.
Watkins said he did not order Hamblin to apologize. But Hamblin said he views council members as the “ultimate formal authority” in the district.
“It’s a stupid analogy, but if my dad asked me to mow the lawn, I never really thought I had a choice,” Hamblin said. “I respected his formal authority, and I was expected to do so.”
Bohaty, the superintendent, drew loud applause from the audience on Monday when she said she supported Hamblin’s decision to show the video.
“I don’t think there was a breakdown in communication. I made it clear … that no apologies should be sought from the DHS administration,” Bohaty said.
Board Chairman Michael Blankenship thanked Bohaty “for finally taking a stand on the video.” Then added: “Unfortunately it’s about a month late.”
Several Derby residents have approached the school board in support of Hamblin.
“We live in a dangerous time where the sensitivities of oppressors and their apologists are considered more than the experiences of real victims,” said Karen Runyon, parent and school district employee.
Sherilyn Ray, a Derby High graduate who is black, said racism is a problem in the district and needs to be addressed.
Suzanne Perez reports on education for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT