The intervention of a state lawmaker after conservative constituents complained about social media posts by a school district staff trainer leads the Guilford County Schools superintendent to swiftly cut ties with the consultant.
A tweet conjuring images of a dystopian inferno and a conservative backlash resulted in a swift decision by Guilford County Schools Superintendent Sharon Contreras to end a consulting arrangement with an equity trainer.
A Jan. 9 tweet heralded the conclusion
of Kimya N. Dennis’ work for the district. “Just did my final gender
discrimination training for Guilford County Schools principals,” she wrote.
“Wonderful changes happening in schools and increasing gender justice.”
But it was another tweet, sent the day
before, that caught the attention of conservative parents who are skeptical of
the administration’s efforts to improve diversity and inclusion, and are
hostile towards Contreras’ leadership.
“This week I have nine (9)
trainings-presentations for school assistant principals and school principals,”
Dennis tweeted. “My trainings-presentations include a request that most books
used in schools be burned.
“Stop using white history, white
mathematics and white science as the foundation.”
Marc Ridgill, a retired Greensboro
police officer previously assigned as a school resource officer to Grimsley
High School and former candidate for school board, posted a screenshot of the
tweet on his Facebook page, writing, “I knew this woman was a bit ‘radical’ but
this is over the top. I also did not know how often Contreras uses her for
‘training.’” Ridgill tagged school board members Anita Sharpe, Linda Welborn,
Patrick Tillman and Darlene Garrett, along with Guilford County Commissioners
Justin Conrad, Alan Branson, Jeff Phillips and Hank Henning.
Over the next four days, Ridgill’s
post catalyzed more than 200 comments and dozens of shares. The responses that
flooded onto Ridgill’s page were harsh and soaked in disbelief: “SICK”; “WTH?!
And how much do our tax dollars pay her?!”; “This is racist yet okay???”; “Book
burning… great. This woman is out of her freaking mind.”
Among the first to weigh in was Rep.
Jon Hardister, a Guilford County lawmaker who serves as the Republican majority
whip in the state House in Raleigh.
“This is very shameful,” Hardister
wrote on Facebook.
Tillman thanked Ridgill for sharing
“‘Burning books’???” he wrote.
“Really? This 1984 Orwellian philosophy is so irresponsible for someone in
The controversy generated a story the next day at the College Fix, a right-leaning website that takes aim at liberal professors and administrators, and that has ties to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
By Jan. 13, Hardister had results to
report to the conservative constituents.
“Over the weekend I spoke with
Superintendent Sharon Contreras to express my concern about the racially
charged tweet that was sent out by Dr. Dennis, who did mental health, gender
discrimination, and Title IX training for GCS,” Hardister wrote.
Hardister reported that Contreras
told him in response: “When I received this, I directed staff to end our
relationship with her even though it was not in reference to our district.”
Chief of Schools Tony Watlington,
the administrator with direct supervisory responsibility for principals, told Triad City Beat that school officials
determined that Dennis’ social-media posts were “inappropriate,” adding that
they “don’t reflect the views or values of Guilford County Schools.”
Watlington also said that Dennis
came with “stellar academic credentials.”
Dennis earned a doctorate in
sociology from NC State University in 2010 and chaired the Department of
Sociology and Criminal Studies at Salem College through August 2019. She
recently served on the board of directors for the Mental Health Association in
Forsyth County, Forsyth Futures and the North Carolina chapter of the American
Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Dennis has also extensively applied
her academic expertise in public settings. Among many community presentations,
Dennis led a seminar called “African-American Healthcare Access” at the
Winston-Salem Juneteenth Festival in 2018 and co-moderated a series of town
halls hosted by the Winston-Salem Urban League in 2016 that focused on the
relationship between the black community and the police, with participation by
Chief Catrina Thompson. A native of Richmond, Dennis has contributed a guest
editorial for USA Today on Virginia
Democrats and blackface, and commented on 2020 presidential candidates’
positions on criminal justice reform for NPR’s “Here & Now” in August 2019.
Watlington said Dennis’ training for
Guilford County Schools principals on gender identities and gender
discrimination in K-12 schools was “well received.” A survey of principals
showed that 94 percent rated it as “relevant” and 88 percent rated it as
“timely,” he said.
A copy of the PowerPoint for Dennis
presentation provided to TCB by the
district includes a slide addressing discomfort surrounding gender identity.
“False claims of ‘women are the way
they are… men are the way they are… stop trying to change that and make things
complicated,” it reads.
“School systems and schools are
among the institutions that teach and reinforce (and force) gender normality
and gender ideologies,” the slide continues.
It concludes: “How can schools
change this tendency without offending gender-traditionalist families,
communities and religions?”
Another slide calls principals to
consider how they would “form a gender anti-discrimination committee” and “what
realistic changes must be implemented.”
Nora Carr, the chief of staff for
Guilford County Schools, said Dennis has provided trainings to the district
since 2018, including about seven last year. Dennis was paid through purchase
orders after invoicing the district, as opposed to a long-term contract. Carr
said Dennis did not request payment for her final presentation after being
informed that the district would no longer use her services.
Dennis said in an email to TCB that she is reluctant to comment
about the controversy because “news stories often focus on adults’ uninformed
“Instead, the focus should be on
understanding figurative language used to motivate and encourage justice in
knowledge and justice in learning,” she continued. “Justice in knowledge and
justice in learning require various demographics and various cultures
represented in creation and expression.
“Hopefully,” she added, “adults will
end the uninformed outrage and work for such justice.”
Dennis’ recent training was on
gender equity, and not racial equity. And notwithstanding Dennis’ tweet
criticizing white framing of history, math and science, she has played no role
in selecting the textbooks that Guilford County teachers use.
In an interview with TCB, Watlington conceded some merit in
“Without question,” he said, “black
and brown children are not reflected as well as they need to be in the
Reached by phone on Friday evening,
Hardister initially said he found Dennis’ tweet to be “racially combative” and
But when asked about how curriculum
has historically centered white men as protagonists while rendering people of
color and women invisible, Hardister struck a more conciliatory stance.
“That’s a valid concern,” he said.
“Her comments come across as fairly radical. As far as history, people can
distort history and leave things out. I graduated from Grimsley High School. We
learned about the history of the sit-ins. I was always proud of it. I think I
have a pretty good understanding of racial disparities. I get it that I can’t
put myself in other people’s shoes.”
And asked if he thought it was
possible that there might be an element of hyperbole in Dennis’ call for
burning books, Hardister said, “Being provocative is a way to make change. If
you are training principals, you should go an inclusive route. Politicians can
sometimes be provocative on social media; that’s an advocacy route. She might
want to have more decorum.”
Hardister said when he contacted
Contreras, it was not his intention that Dennis lose her job. He said he
suggested to Contreras that Dennis issue an apology.
Many of the commenters on Ridgill’s
Facebook page expressed disbelief that curriculum could be built around
whiteness and a sense of affront that someone would bring up the matter of
“Ok what the heck is white
mathematics & science (I didn’t know they could be racially divided),” one
woman commented. “Also, history is history as the definition of the word???”
Another wrote, “OK now this is
really making me mad. I’m trying to teach my kids everybody bleeds red, but
this idiot is the one is more racial on white people than I’ve ever seen
anybody, and she’s working for our schools. She needs to be fired. I scream
discrimination on white people. I am sick and tired of this crap. All the
parents need to stand up; let’s pull together.”
Recent reporting by the New York Times shows that indeed there can be significant differences between how textbooks in different states present history, and that decisions about what to include more often revolve around politics than scholarship.
In one example, language describing
the phenomenon of suburbanization after World War II was substantially alike in
textbooks in California and Texas, but diverged in how it addressed the impact
The California textbook included the
sentence, “Movement of some white Americans from cities to suburbs was driven
by a desire to get away from more culturally diverse neighborhoods.” The Texas
textbook omitted the sentence.
The Texas textbook also left out the
explanation that many of the white suburbs “were funded through bank loans form
the FHA on the condition that no homes be sold to African Americans and that
every deed have a clause prohibiting resale to African Americans.”
Hardister told TCB: “I don’t see how race conflates with science and math.”
But when asked to consider the
cross-cultural development of knowledge, Hardister acknowledged, “I always
thought about the Founding Fathers as being inventors, but I hadn’t thought
about the engineering feat behind the [Egyptian] pyramids.”
In a handful of other updates on his
Facebook page, Ridgill shared other social-media posts by Dennis, and in one he
shared a slide from the trainer’s PowerPoint that was anonymously forwarded to
him by one of the principals. The slide is headlined: “Robert K. Merton
Typology of Prejudice and Discrimination: How this pertains to gender
“Again, this training has also been
provided for GCS staff. Apparently Merton only acknowledges two kinds of
people; liberals and bigots,” Ridgill complained, referring to the man widely
regarded as the founder of modern sociology.
Reached for comment by TCB, Ridgill wrote, “I believe Dr.
Dennis’ direct tweets and postings speak for themselves. I have nothing to
In another Facebook post inviting
scrutiny of Dennis’ social media output, on Jan. 13, Ridgill spelled out an
agenda shared by many of his commenters in a hashtag: “#Contrerasmustgo.”
The tweet storm by Dennis that is
referenced by Ridgill begins: “No matter how much whites eat feces and pretend
it is chocolate pudding, fact remains, whites have fantasized about and enacted
the controlling, raping, and murdering of black and brown women for centuries.”
Despite the well-established
historical fact that white slave masters raped black female slaves and that the
sexual abuse of black women at the hands of white men has been a lasting legacy
of slavery, Ridgill’s followers reacted with disbelief.
“Read some more claims to have PhD — well I beg to
differ after reading her hatred towards white men,” one man commented. “I will
agree the media is not all that, but raping and killing and stalking black
women, I sure didn’t see it!! Just plum hate!! How can GCS Superintendent even
spread anything this lady writes!! For me, there’s a change in the making.”
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