Shawnee Mission East administration sends apology notice to parents after complaints following Jane Elliott presentation

Jane Elliott on stage in the Shawnee Mission East auditorium Thursday night. Photo via Elliott on Facebook.
Jane Elliott on stage in the Shawnee Mission East auditorium Thursday night. Photo via Elliott on Facebook.

Education icon and anti-racism activist Jane Elliott’s presentations at Shawnee Mission East last Thursday appear to have ruffled a few feathers among district patrons.

Elliott, who is best known for the “blue eyes-brown eyes” lesson she gave to a class of third graders the day after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, spent much of the day Thursday at SM East giving presentations directly to students from Shawnee Mission and Blue Valley schools as well as St. Teresa’s Academy. On Thursday night, she gave a public presentation in the SM East auditorium that was attended by a relatively small crowd.

Elliott’s decision to directly mention President Donald Trump, criticizing his comments and policies, prompted push back from some students’ parents, though. On Friday, SM East Principal John McKinney sent a note via email to parents of SM East students noting that Elliott’s comments had “veered away” from the agenda she had agreed to when she accepted the invitation from the SME Diversity and Inclusion Committee and the other hosting organizations.

“We apologize for any distress the presentations caused,” McKinney’s note read. “Please know that our intentions were good, and we regret the outcome of this event.”

The district has not responded to a request for comment made Monday morning about whether Elliott received compensation for her visit, and if so, where the funds came from. We’ll update the post if and when we get that information.

UPDATED 1:44 p.m.: Shawnee Mission School District Director of Communications Erin Little sent the following statement in response to our request for comment on the funds used to bring Elliott to the school: “There were no district funds used for her presentation.  There were 6 contributors, including the SME Fund Foundation, St. Theresa’s, Blue Valley, and the SME PTSA as well.  I am unable to disclose specific amounts, but I hope this will answer your questions on this topic.”

McKinney’s full note to parents is below:

Shawnee Mission School District Response to Jane Elliott Presentation on Feb. 16, 2017

The SME Diversity and Inclusion Committee, along with six other sponsoring organizations, recently hosted a guest speaker, Jane Elliott, who is an international teacher, lecturer and diversity trainer. Ms. Elliott is best known for her “Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes” exercise that exposes people to the experience of feeling what it’s like to be a minority.

The SME Diversity and Inclusion Committee is committed to promoting cross-cultural understanding, harmony and positive relationships and to raising the awareness of the diversity that exists within our community.

When they invited Mrs. Elliott to speak, the agreed upon agenda supported the Diversity Committee’s values. However, Ms. Elliott veered away from that agenda, and used our forum to share her personal political opinions.

As a district, we do not insert political ideology or personal agendas into anything we present to our students, and we were unaware Ms. Elliott’s presentation would take this direction.

The social studies teachers are well equipped to conduct conversations within the classroom to allow students to express their opinions about Ms. Elliott’s presentation. Conversations will likely include freedom of speech, and how her views are not representative of the district as a whole, and will welcome a healthy dialogue that supports different views.

We apologize for any distress the presentations caused. Please know that our intentions were good, and we regret the outcome of this event.

John McKinney
Shawnee Mission East High School