The receipts are in. According to documents released in response to an open records request, Naperville, Ill., School District 203 paid a diversity consultant, Dena Nicole Simmons, $10,500 for a 60-minute Zoom “keynote” address at its 2021 Equity Institute late last month—a rate of $175 per minute. In one hour, the “anti-racism” consultant earned the equivalent of about two month’s salary for some teachers in the school district.
The controversial Feb. 28 event, first reported in The Federalist, raised alarm bells when a whistleblower said Simmons told attendees “our education is based on a foundation of whiteness” and that Americans are “spiritually murdering” students. In addition, parroting the refrain of the “anti-racist” movement, Simmons told attendees that if they were not an “anti-racist,” they were racist.
According to an outline of the lecture, including in the publicly released documents, Simmons, the founder of an organization called LiberatED LLC, delivered 60 minutes of talking points in her lecture, “Thriving to Surviving,” from the playbook of “critical race theory.” CRT is the divisive ideology that turns every aspect of society into a race war, from K-12 schools to snow removal, a point that Simmons made to exemplify “systemic racism.”
Asked to provide documentation of whether there were competing bids for the services provided, the school district responded, “There are no public records responsive to this request.”
The payment raises questions about how these consultants are receiving funds without a competitive bidding process. The lucrative fee by a public school to an outside consultant underscores a crisis in which school districts are increasingly wasting taxpayer funds on outside consultants who push divisive political ideologies in the name of “equity” and “social justice.”
In northern Virginia, for example, Fairfax County Public Schools last summer doled out at least $44,000 to “anti-racist” guru Ibram Kendi—$20,000 for a one-hour virtual lecture and then another $24,000 buying copies of his book to give to high school students for required reading.
This exploding industry is why Parents Defending Education, a new organization established to empower parents to challenge indoctrination in schools, is filing open records requests nationwide to get to the bottom of how school districts are spending taxpayer money. The Naperville case drew my attention not only because of the divisive nature of Simmons’s lecture but the way her supporters went after Federalist intern Gabe Kaminsky after he wrote about the story, essentially refusing to have the kind of “uncomfortable” conversations in which they insist people should be ready to engage.
Simmons didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
As they pursue divisive political agendas, school districts like Naperville are failing to return students to school, with parents protesting this week for a return to in-person learning. Earlier this month, an angry parent told the local school board, “You will all be replaced.”
Instead of focusing on returning students to in-person learning, school district officials were busy planning this “equity” day. On Feb. 16, just 12 days before the talk, Colleen Cannon-Ruffo, project manager for learning services at the school district, thanked Simmons for agreeing to make the presentation at the 2021 Equity Institute event.
In the contract with Simmons, the Naperville school district said that “the Services are outside of Naperville School District 203′ [sic] ordinary course of education and is seeking LiberatED LLC’ [sic] experience and expertise.” But in her email, Cannon-Ruffo outlined a description for the session, “Surviving to Thriving,” loaded with amorphous language, bordering on gibberish:
For community members to thrive, they must feel safe to be who they are; they must love themselves. As a result, our leadership, instruction, and assessment must foster psychological and emotional safety through emotional intelligence, culturally responsivity, and anti-racist practices. During this interactive session, participants will explore impostor syndrome, emotional intelligence, and culturally relevant pedagogy, and anti-racist practices. Through narrative, Dr. Simmons will discuss how the intersection of emotionally intelligent and culturally relevant practices can create equitable and welcoming communities, where everyone can learn in the comfort of their skin.
The “session’s objectives” included four bulleted items: “Explore imposter syndrome”; “Discuss the skills of emotional intelligence as well as culturally relevant and anti-racist practices”; “Explore the intersections between culturally relevant practices and emotional intelligence”; “Describe ways to incorporate culturally relevant and emotionally intelligent practices into participants’ lives and work.”
The school district refused to release the presentation sponsored by public resources, calling it Simmons’s “intellectual property.” Indeed, the contract stipulated that the presentation was “intellectual property of LiberatED LLC” and “shall not be reproduced or presented without the permission of LiberatED LLC.” It added that “LiberatED LLC does not permit recording of any sessions.” The school district said it would also purchase for “all of our staff” a “book from one of the presenters.”
For a session that was so divisive, the Zoom password was ironic: #203Unites.