Kansas residents pack school board meeting to support principal's lesson on 'white privilege'
Wichita-area school board member Andy Watkins said he raised concerns about the video because he thinks terminology used in it “has a direct tie to critical race theory,” and he was concerned about “making this terminology … the norm.”
WICHITA, Kansas — Debate over a video about white privilege dominated the Derby school board meeting this week, with one board member linking the video to critical race theory and others saying they support its message and the principal who shared it.
More than 100 people packed into the board chambers and an overflow room for Monday’s meeting. Many wore green “Team Hamblin” T-shirts in support of Derby High Principal Tim Hamblin.
Hamblin spoke publicly for the first time since the controversy began, saying he shared the video with teachers in January after learning about race-based attacks on social media against two Black students.
“‘See something, say something.’ It’s on the Derby homepage. It’s in every building in this district,” Hamblin said. “I was trying to teach kids how they can help others.”
Hamblin emailed his staff last month to apologize for showing the video. He said an anonymous employee had complained to a school board member that the video was offensive and created a hostile work environment.
The video features Black author Joy DeGruy relating a story about being treated differently at a store because of her race. A lighter-skinned family member “used her white privilege and … pointed out the injustice,” DeGruy says in the video.
School board member Andy Watkins emailed Superintendent Heather Bohaty about the video on Feb. 6.
“I really believe the community/patrons of our district would not be okay with this video,” Watkins said in the email. He said students and teachers who watched it should get an apology or explanation.
“Do we need some kind of policy which talks more about disparaging one race over another (which seems like common sense but may be needed to prevent a video like this in the future)?” Watkins wrote in the email.
“I really need to understand your position on this video, as I think it dictates what possible next steps look like and further questions.”
Board members were scheduled to review Bohaty’s contract the following day.
On Monday, Watkins said he raised concerns about the video because he thinks terminology used in it “has a direct tie to critical race theory,” and he was concerned about “making this terminology … the norm.”
Critical race theory is not taught in Kansas K-12 schools, but its core idea holds that racism is embedded in American culture and policies. Some critics say conversations about white privilege can make people feel uncomfortable and accelerate racial conflict.
Watkins said he did not order Hamblin to apologize. But Hamblin said he viewed board members as “the ultimate formal authority” in the district.
“This is a dumb analogy, but if my father asked me to mow the lawn, I never really thought I had a choice,” Hamblin said. “I respected his formal authority, and it was an expectation that I would do so.”
Bohaty, the superintendent, drew loud applause from the audience Monday when she said she supported Hamblin’s decision to show the video.
“I do not believe there was a communication breakdown. I have clearly stated … that an apology should not be requested from DHS administration,” Bohaty said.
“We have to do better. We must have an environment where conversations can occur, and every student feels safe in our school.”
Board president Michael Blankenship thanked Bohaty “for finally taking a stance on the video.” Then added, “Unfortunately, it’s about a month late.”
Several Derby residents addressed the school board in support of Hamblin.
“We live in a dangerous time when the sensibilities of the oppressors and their apologists are given more consideration than the experiences of true victims,” said Karen Runyon, a parent and school district employee.
“Kudos to Mr. Hamblin for attempting to deal with a complex and difficult issue in a productive way, and shame on those who requested an apology for his efforts.”
Cheryl Bannon, a former Derby City Council member, motioned to the crowd in attendance. “I represented this community for 17 years, and I can guarantee you, as shown by this sea of green, most of the community would not have a problem with that video.”
Sherilyn Ray, a Derby High graduate who is Black, said racism is a problem in the district and needs to be addressed.
“If every single person that was voted into a position … within this school district doesn't stand up and do something different, you're all accountable for that,” she said. “If you stand up and take a position … be on the right side, and that's on the side of the kids that are suffering.”
Suzanne Perez reports on education for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.
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