The Abington School District paid $7,000 last year for its teachers to be trained in issues of “racial equity” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit that is consistently enveloped in controversy.
SPLC is well known for the “hate group” lists it maintains, but earned additional attention in 2019 for accusations from employees that the self-decribed justice group had maintained a culture enabling “mistreatment, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and racism.”
After groups of staffers penned letters of protest and others had left the organization, three of SPLC’s highest ranking officers resigned in March, 2019. Among those who resigned was SPLC Co-Founder Morris Dees.
In October, 2020, Abington School District hired SPLC for 14 separate workshops on the SPLC’s “Teaching Tolerance” program, which has since been rebranded to “Learning for Justice.”
Abington’s purchase of the Teaching Tolerance workshops is part of a trend of local school districts using SPLC’s materials for professional development on “equity,” even if a district doesn’t contract for special assistance with the materials as Abington School District did.
Abington’s purchase of the Teaching Tolerance workshops is part of a trend of local school districts using SPLC’s materials for professional development on “equity”…
For example, a review of 10 districts in Montgomery County identified no fewer than five districts that relied on the Teaching Tolerance instruction, whether the materials were mandatory or suggested.
One Lower Merion School District teacher even won the SPLC’s Teacher Tolerance Award in 2016.
Founded in 1971, the SPLC is headquartered in Montgomery, Alabama, and according to its website “is a catalyst for racial justice in the South and beyond, working in partnership with communities to dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements, and advance the human rights of all people.”
However, in recent years, many political watchers began to claim that the nonprofit was managing its list of “hate groups” more with the intention of garnering attention and keeping a healthy flow of donations.
“The problem partly stems from the fact that the organization wears two hats, as both an activist group and a source of information,” J.M. Berger, a researcher on extremism and a fellow with the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism at The Hague told Politico Magazine in July, 2017.
According to the SPLC’s most recent IRS filing, the nonprofit had $614 million in assets, an outgoing CEO who made $401,000 a year, and an interim CEO who made $353,000 a year.
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In the fall of 2014, the SPLC posted an “Extremist File” profile of Dr. Ben Carson because of several prior statements he made in opposition to gay marriage. Months later, the SPLC apologized and took the post down.
In 2012, a gunman stormed the offices of the Family Research Council—a group that had taken a stance against gay marriage—and wounded the security guard because the SPLC had branded the outfit as a “hate group.” The gunman had a bag of Chick-Fil-A sandwiches and later told investigators he wanted “to kill as many people as I could … then smear a Chicken-fil-A [sic] sandwich on their face.”
The SPLC also paid a $3.3 million settlement to British activist Maajid Nawaz after it included Nawaz on its “Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists.”
“So how did he end up in the SPLC’s pseudo-guide to anti-Muslim bigots?” Marc Thiessen asked in the Washington Post. “His crime, apparently, is that he has become a leading critic of the radical Islamist ideology he once embraced.”
The SPLC also faced withering criticism in the last decade from its own employees that the nonprofit did not adhere to the ideals it was supposed to protect and defend.
“Former employees said racially callous remarks at the [SPLC] were not uncommon, and that professional voices of people of color were often sidelined, affecting the center’s work and priorities,” the New York Times reported in 2019. “Questions swirled over equal pay and advancement. There were sporadic pledges to try to address these inequities, but they persisted.”
Although the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance materials aren’t interchangeable with Critical Race Theory, one right-of-center education policy analyst told Broad + Liberty the materials are oriented in that direction.
“Any parent concerned about Critical Race Theory should be concerned about the SPLC’s ‘Teaching Tolerance’ materials,” said Max Eden with the American Enterprise Institute. “They prompt teachers to conduct racially discriminatory ‘privilege checks’ and train teachers and students to see the word through a CRT ‘lens.’ The SPLC is a left-wing, partisan organization and the end goal of its education materials is pretty plainly to indoctrinate students into a leftwing ideology.”
Any parent concerned about Critical Race Theory should be concerned about the SPLCs ‘Teaching Tolerance’ materials.
The Teaching Tolerance/Learning for Justice materials obtained by Right to Know request from Abington School District do not show “privilege checks.” However, Eden supplied other Teaching Tolerance materials that did show a scoring system in which a person “ranks” themselves according to their “privilege.”
Although the school district did not respond to requests for comment on this story, the district’s equity officer, Dr. Kristopher Brown, gave a detailed statement this summer on the school’s equity initiatives, as the national debate over CRT was reaching a boiling point.
“Social Justice is not synonymous with Critical Race Theory,” Brown said. “We can’t remove conversations about race from our school environment. You will not find a classroom in our school district where the lesson for the day features a teacher telling students that they are racist because they are white.”
“We cannot neglect conversations about race in the school environment because doing so would be a disservice to all of our students and our community. These matters cannot simply be left to deal with at home,” Brown added later.
The SPLC also did not return a request for comment.
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at tshepherd at broadandliberty.com, or use his encrypted email at shepherdreports at protonmail.com.