Black Lady Got School Job In Georgia, And The White Parents Went Wilding
Cecilia Lewis. Video screenshot, PBS Frontline / ProPublica

Back in the spring of 2021, Cecelia Lewis, a middle school principal from Maryland, had a really great job interview at a school district in Georgia. It was such a terrific interview that although Lewis had applied for a position as a coach for teachers, the Cherokee County School District instead offered her a brand new administrative position as the school system's first ever coordinator of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives.

Wow, a plum job, and it was in a district that would be an easy commute to Lewis's husband's new corporate assignment. The couple went house hunting in Georgia, hooray! There was only one little teensy problem; Lewis had enthusiastically taken a job involving diversity and equity just as the rightwing outrage machine was ramping up its paranoid campaign against "critical race theory," which was getting boffo audience response on Fox News and throughout rightwing media. Lying about schools allegedly teaching that all white people are evil was making rightwing white people SO ANGRY, even if no schools were actually teaching that. Just saying that "white privilege" exists is exactly the same, wasn't it? (It is not. Do we need to say that?)

And before she knew it, Cecelia Lewis was the focus of a coordinated campaign to get her fired, and she was being accused of being a Marxist radical who wanted to teach innocent children to hate America, all before she ever started her job. An absolutely incredible article co-published by ProPublica and PBS's Frontline details how a group of angry white parents and rightwing activists plugged into a national outrage infrastructure, and managed to drive Lewis out of her job before the 2021-22 school year even began.

When she found another position in a neighboring county, the same crowd mobilized to destroy her there, too, because after all, wasn't she that communist elitist who was pushing CRT and calling all white children inherently racist? It didn't matter that she'd never espoused any such views — she'd been accused, so of course she was guilty.

Yes, kids, this is going to be another of those Wonkette posts where I keep telling you to go read the whole article, because there's just so goddamn much.

While she was getting ready to move to Georgia, Lewis got a call from someone at the school district asking her if she'd heard of "CRT." Of course she had: Culturally Responsive Teaching is an important concept in education, all about helping children connect what they learn in school to their own cultural background. Like lots of Americans, she had literally never heard of "critical race theory" before Fox News and and rightwing astroturf groups started insisting it was a radical Marxist philosophy that had infiltrated and completely taken over American public education.

(Remember back during the Obama administration when progressives found out, from Glenn Beck, that we were all radical disciples of Saul Alinsky and the Cloward-Pivens strategy? Same dishonest deal.)

As it turned out, a bunch of white people in Cherokee County had heard about her hiring and the new position in the school district, and they held a meeting where they got radicalized by a local rightwing activist, Rhonda Thomas, who often appeared on wingnut podcasts and headed "Truth in Education," a nonprofit based in Atlanta dedicated to ginning up panic about "radical ideologies" the schools are supposedly cramming down children's throats. She explained to the meeting that this "critical race theory" stuff

"teaches kids that whites are inherently racist and oppressive, perhaps unconsciously,” and that “all whites are responsible for all historical actions” and “should feel guilty.”

She added: “I cannot be asked for repentance for something my grandparents did or my ancestors did, right?”

She and another presenter, Noelle Kahaian — she has a nonprofit too! It pushes the idea that schools are all grooming kids to become gay transgender homosexuals — walked the concerned parents through some strategies for raising a fuss at school board meetings, urging them to find their most effective speakers and to "be emotional" if need be. And be sure to get video, or even hire a professional videographer:

“It’s good in case Tucker Carlson wants to put you on air,” Kahaian said. “It really helps.”

She then briefed them on how to file grievances about school board members’ teaching licenses and on their right to request school board members’ cellphone records.

She also urged the newly awakened anti-woke activists to connect with national and local groups to increase their impact and to help dig up anything that might be framed as indoctrination.

And then the meeting got to the really important matter: getting Cecelia Lewis fired and eliminating the DEI administrator job in the school system. Clearly, any such job was all about forcing CRT onto students, and why did the school district hire a fancy coastal elitist from liberal Maryland anyway? (No, there's no hint the outrage mob had any evidence of Lewis actually advocating for CRT, what with her not even knowing what it was, but why let that stop them?)

Mandy Heda, a GOP precinct chair, was super mad about Lewis's hiring; she fretted that Lewis was a scary outsider bent on coming to Georgia with a mission to "change us." A man asked why the county hadn't hired someone local, and Heda replied,

You cannot tell me, you know, that you can’t find somebody else qualified. [...] And if you’re looking for her to be Black, that’s fine. But that’s not what this is about. This is not about the color of her skin. It’s what she’s going to bring into our district and what she’s going to teach our children.

Well thank goodness they weren't motivated by racism, that's a huge relief. It was all about what Lewis planned to teach, which they just knew would be terrible.

The ProPublica/Frontline story details that this is just one of many cases where local outrage tapped into a network of far-Right (the story too-politely says "conservative") groups that

quickly and efficiently train communities to take on school districts in the name of concepts that aren’t even being taught in classrooms.

National groups, often through their local chapters, have provided video lessons and toolkits to parents across the country on how to effectively spread their messaging about so-called school indoctrination. Parents Defending Education has created “indoctrination maps” tracking everything from a district celebrating “Black Lives Matter week” to one that allows students to watch CNN Student News, while the Atlanta-based Education Veritas and Kahaian’s Protect Student Health Georgia provide portals for anonymously reporting educators supposedly sympathetic to CRT, DEI and other so-called controversial learning concepts.

In addition to the hatchet job on Lewis, the story notes that ProPublica has found at least 13 other public school employees who were either fired or pressured to quit by similar efforts.

And what the hell, it worked. Parents deluged the school district with form letters, Lewis received angry emails and letters — one calling her a "Black Yankee" — and local social media accounts were full of panicked reports from parents who thought they'd spotted Lewis in town, although she was still back home in Maryland. Lewis initially thought she'd simply be able to clear everything once she arrived and could explain herself to the local parents, but then she watched a livestream of a school board meeting — with an over-capacity crowd — where white parents freaked the fuck out. When a Black woman said she supported Lewis's hiring, the crowd outside "began beating against the building's windows."

“No, no, no!” they screamed in unison, the sound reverberating through the lobby as their fists pounded the glass. Yep, there's video:

The meeting dissolved into anger and screaming, men threatened to "hunt" the school board down (after the school board voted to ban icky diversity), students attending the meeting had to be hustled to safety, and police had to escort the school board members to their cars.

Lewis said the hell with it, and then when she got a job at another school district in neighboring Cobb County — this time as the head of social studies, not even a position dealing with diversity — the mobs returned. Lewis started the job, but was quickly shunted into unrelated work that had nothing to do with supervising teachers, and she ended up resigning there too.

Then all the good concerned parents and activists congratulated themselves on the great job they'd done of saving their kids from Marxist indoctrination.

Like we say: Read the whole thing. It's a disturbing look at how rightwing groups have mobilized culture war politics to ruin public education, using the threat of violence to do so, and dear Christ what are we going to do about it?


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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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