Dozens of Shawnee Mission North students on Wednesday walked out in protest, pushing back against a longtime English teacher’s claims made in a recent op-ed that said students are being indoctrinated with “woke ideology.”
The students’ walkout was aimed at Caedran Sullivan, a 15-year veteran English teacher at SM North.
Sullivan’s recent piece for The Lion, an online conservative-leaning publication— which gained some national media attention — claims the district’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives are fostering a “toxic environment” in Shawnee Mission schools and that white teachers and students are frequently being shamed for their skin color.
Student organizers of Wednesday’s walkout, however, see it differently.
They said they wanted to publicly refute Sullivan’s claims in order to show that she doesn’t speak for the entire SM North community, which — with nearly half of its students identified as non-white — is one of the most racially diverse schools in the district.
More than 50 students walked out Wednesday
- Some signs held by students read “white shaming isn’t real, cry about it” and “respect my existence or expect resistance.”
- Lavii Washington, a SM North junior and one of the walkout’s organizers, said she is one of Sullivan’s current students.
- Washington and student co-organizer Lily Enloe said they wanted to show the district and Sullivan that the op-ed — and some of Sullivan’s actions in class — need to be taken more seriously.
- For instance, Washington said she’s spoken up on behalf of peers who Sullivan has misgendered or referred to with their non-preferred pronouns.
- “It’s just more of a respect thing, and for her to flaunt herself on live television, that’s why we’re all here to stick up,” Washington said, in seeming reference to a recent interview Sullivan did with a local TV station. “Because the school board didn’t do anything, the school didn’t make a comment, so we’re here making comments about it.”
Sullivan claims students are being “indoctrinated”
- Sullivan did not immediately respond to the Post’s request for comment for this story but has previously directed a Post reporter back to her op-ed when asked to further explain her views.
- In the op-ed first published on April 21, Sullivan claims the district “is fostering a toxic environment” through DEI training and workshops that are “centered around Critical Race Theory, including Black Lives Matter in the Classroom and Social Justice in the Classroom.”
- Sullivan also claims “there is repeated white shaming” and takes issue with using students preferred pronouns, which she claims is being enforced by district policy.
- Sullivan wrote a second op-ed for The Lion on May 8 doubling down on her claims in the original op-ed, calling on the district to release its Deep Equity program to the public and for a “return to a focus on academics.”
- Sullivan also noted in the May 8 op-ed that any backlash she receives won’t stop her from continuing her passion for “teaching kids English and how to think critically about both sides of an argument.”
Students say Sullivan doesn’t represent SM North
- Enloe, one of the student organizers, said other teachers feel strongly about Sullivan’s op-eds but don’t feel they can speak out about the issue.
- Others like Maya Moreno, a junior at SM North, said the school environment has been “weird” since Sullivan wrote her first piece.
- Lucie Reyes, another junior, said Sullivan’s op-eds are not representative of the school community — but the walkout is.
- Junior Payton Cook said Sullivan has “always been a problem here” and thinks that staff diversity training is important because of the school’s increasingly diverse population.
- “We’ve progressed so much, we’ve become kind of more accepting now a days, but then she’s going on and complaining about Black Lives Matter being taught in the classroom — which it isn’t, really,” Cook said.
JoCo GOP organized counterprotest
- About 10 people showed up to counterprotest the student walkout, following a call to action from the Johnson County Republican Party.
- The invite from the Johnson County GOP asked members to show up to SM North “to get our message out,” going on to say “we cannot fight this evil by talking about it and doing nothing. We are not called to be pacifists.”
- Most of the counter demonstrators refused to share their names with The Post, but several said they showed up Wednesday to show support for Sullivan.
- None of the counter-protestors the Post spoke to seemed to have attended SM North or had children attend the school, but one man said he pays taxes to the school district.
District says Sullivan can file a complaint
- SMSD’s Chief Communications Officer David Smith told the Post that there is a district policy allowing “any staff member to file a formal complaint regarding a board policy, procedure or decision that affects them.”
- He added that he could not answer the Post’s question about whether or not Sullivan has filed a complaint because that is a “personnel matter.”
- “Our administrators regularly speak with employees who have questions or concerns about a variety of work-related issues, and they are willing to listen, provide explanation, answer questions, and work to reach a resolution,” Smith said.
- A review of recent retirements and resignations that must be approved by the school board monthly shows no record of Sullivan resigning her teaching position, and Smith told the Post nothing has changed about Sullivan’s employment status.