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A Kansas principal shared a video about speaking up against racism. He was ordered to apologize.

Suzanne Perez

The episode illustrates an ongoing debate over lessons about racism and discrimination in Kansas schools.

WICHITA, Kansas A Kansas high school principal was forced to apologize for showing a video about white privilege during an employee meeting.

Tim Hamblin, principal at Derby High School, shared a four-minute video during a staff in-service day last month that featured Black author Joy DeGruy. In it, the author relates a story about being treated differently at a store because of her race, and how a lighter-skinned family member spoke up for her.

“She used her white privilege to educate and make right a situation that was wrong,” DeGruy says in the 2011 video. “That’s what you can do every single day.”

Members of the Derby High girls basketball team were shown the same video in response to race-based comments made toward some team members on social media late last year.

Hamblin shared the video with staff members in January so they would be aware of what the students had seen, he explained in the email.

A teacher who attended the meeting told a Derby school board member the video was offensive and created a hostile work environment. The board member then directed Hamblin to apologize for showing it.

“The point was nothing more than to share what some of our kids were dealing with and one thing that they would see to try and help them get through it,” Hamblin said in the email.

“I apologize to anyone that felt the video or its content which reference white privilege made them feel uncomfortable, awkward, harassed, or that it created a hostile work environment.”

Hamblin declined to comment for this story.

Superintendent Heather Bohaty “is aware of the email you’re referencing and didn’t have further details or comments to share,” said district spokeswoman Katie Carlson in an email.

“The (school) Board as a whole had made no directive regarding specific videos or teaching materials of this type,” Carlson said.

School board president Michael Blankenship would not say which board member contacted Hamblin.

“This email was intended between him and his staff,” Blankenship said in an email to KMUW. “We respect the opinions and views of all our staff and work to maintain an environment where we support all students and staff.”

A larger debate

 In a 2011 video, author Joy DeGruy relates a story about being treated differently at a store because of her race, and how a lighter-skinned family member spoke up for her.
In a 2011 video, author Joy DeGruy relates a story about being treated differently at a store because of her race, and how a lighter-skinned family member spoke up for her.

The episode illustrates an ongoing debate over lessons about racism and discrimination in Kansas schools. Critics say schools’ efforts to promote diversity can breed white guilt and accelerate racial conflict.

During a recent discussion about critical race theory in the Kansas Legislature, Rep. Patrick Penn, a Republican from Wichita, decried some school districts’ efforts to promote anti-racism.

“They reject wholeheartedly the theory or the notion of colorblindness. … They look at everything through a racial lens,” Penn said.

Tamara Seyler-James, a parent in the Blue Valley school district, also objected to themes of implicit bias or white privilege.

Public schools “drive the conversation exclusively toward the topic of … whites behaving badly, as opposed to balancing the equation and stating that everybody, no matter their skin color, is human, and is flawed and could commit the sin of bias and racism,” Seyler-James said. “I find that problematic.”

A conservative majority was elected to the Derby school board in November.

Blankenship, the board president, was one of two parents to sue the Derby district over its mask requirement. As one of its first orders of business last month, the Derby board eliminated any mask mandates.

In a post on his campaign Facebook page in October, Blankenship listed “items and issues that have come to my attention by members of our community, parents and teachers.”

The list includes “CRT in school curriculum / changing or skewing historical facts about the foundation of our country” and “parents being limited or prevented in speaking out to school board members or meetings.”

Pointing out injustice

In the video shared in Derby, DeGruy, who is Black, talks about being in a grocery store with her biracial sister-in-law, who looks “whiter than most white folks.”

The sister-in-law writes a check for her groceries without incident. Immediately after that, DeGruy writes a check and is asked for two forms of identification. Then the cashier “pulls out the ‘bad check’ book” and searches it for DeGruy’s license.

“I’m standing there trying to decide what to do, and it’s really deeply humiliating,” DeGruy says in the video. “My sister-in-law walks back over, and she steps in, and she says, ‘Excuse me, why are you doing this?’”

The sister-in-law points out inconsistencies to the cashier and then to the store manager.

“So you see, she used her white privilege,” DeGruy says. “And even though Kathleen is half black and half white, she recognizes what that means, and she made the statement. She pointed out the injustice and she, as a result of that one act, influenced everyone in that space.”

It’s unclear which Derby High staff member complained to school board members about the video. The board member told Hamblin the employee “feared retaliation for sharing their concerns,” he said in the email.

“I can guarantee there is not a single member(s) of this staff that can produce one piece of evidence I have ever retaliated against anyone as the Principal of Derby High School,” he added.

A letter supporting Hamblin circulated through Derby High School this week, as some teachers gathered signatures in hopes of sharing the letter with school board members.

“Mr. Hamblin at no time suggested that we were bad people nor did he call anyone out or try to shame anyone,” the letter says.

“On the contrary, he provided an outlet to discuss an issue that is at the forefront of our society right now. Derby has a checkered history handling race issues. … Mr. Hamblin has always done his best to help us recognize that there is a world outside our bubble of white privilege. It is time members of this board do the same.”

Suzanne Perez reports on education for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Copyright 2022 KMUW | NPR for Wichita. To see more, visit KMUW | NPR for Wichita.

Suzanne Perez
Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news. Before coming to KMUW, she worked at The Wichita Eagle, where she covered schools and a variety of other topics.