Did the Seattle school district err when it used federal money to send 20 high school students to a “white privilege” conference in Colorado last month?
U.S. Department of Education officials want to know whether the $8,500-plus spent on the trip April 18-21 violated federal law or regulations.
Department spokeswoman Elaine Quesinberry said officials are asking whether the expenditure was part of—and was consistent with—the district’s federal Small Learning Communities grant.
The conference’s Web site describes the event as an opportunity for “critical discussions about diversity, multicultural education and leadership, social justice, race/racism, sexual orientation, gender relations, religion, and other systems of privilege/ oppression.”
David A. Tucker, a spokesman for the 46,000-student district, said the gathering at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs “explored a number of issues we feel can expand our students’ educational and social experiences and understanding.”
An April 26 e-mail to the district from Eric Earling, a Seattle-based regional representative of the federal Education Department, said the department would explore “allegations of mismanagement of federal taxpayer money” connected with the trip.
SoundPolitics, a Seattle blog, had raised questions about the trip in an April 5 post by editor Stefan Sharkansky. It sparked dozens of responses.
“And they wonder why people are fleeing the Seattle public school system,” one reader wrote. “Maybe if [the district] focused on the 3 R’s things would change. Instead they teach bigotry against ‘white people.’ ”
Mr. Earling, who is a political appointee at the Education Department, is an editor for SoundPolitics.
Tom Hutton, a spokesman for the university, acknowledged the conference’s title “can be polarizing,” but defended its educational value for teenagers.
“It’s important to examine our own views and stereotypes, and high school is not too young to start that,” he said.
A version of this article appeared in the May 09, 2007 edition of Education Week