A Virginia teacher with an exemplary record was placed on administrative leave after questioning the school district’s equity training program.
Shelly Norden, an English and journalism teacher in Fauquier County Public Schools, ran one of the top journalism programs in the state and won the Kettle Run High School’s 2016 “Teacher of the Year” award. But Norden says administrators target her for speaking out against an equity training program.
“I’m not a rabble-rouser,” Norden, who is also a taxpayer in Fauquier County, told The Daily Wire in an interview. “But this wasn’t right, so I started speaking out against it.”
The training program, called Deep Equity, was founded by Gary Howard, a white man who believes that white people “are collectively bound and unavoidably complicit in the arrangements of dominance that have systematically favored our racial group over others.”
Deep Equity teaches progressive ideology and is controversial among parents and taxpayers because it tells educators to “explicitly reject and resist any parents who disagree with it.”
Norden says that the shift toward equity began in 2017 when the district hired Associate Superintendent of Instruction Major Warner. He began by shifting the district’s homework policy.
Teachers were forbidden from making homework count for more than 10 percent of a student’s final grade — a policy Norden argues hurts students who perform poorly on tests. Students were also no longer allowed to receive “zeros” for failing a test or failing to turn in homework. Now, the lowest grade a student could receive for these was 50 percent.
“The shift in mindset correlates strongly with our increased dialogue about equity and access in teaching and learning,” Warner said.
The same year, Warner chose teacher Nikki Jenkins to oversee the district’s equity training. Jenkins, who worked in the sciences and physical education department, promised to “build equity in science and P.E. for all.”
While top administrators were focused on Deep Equity training and other such policies, Norden spoke with parents who claimed that students were failing because teachers were not adequately trained for their positions. For instance, Norden claims the district hired a Spanish teacher who did not speak fluent Spanish.
On social media, Nordon talked about the problematic nature of Deep Equity training. She lamented that the largest equity problem in the district was the lack of quality education for all students.
“In my opinion, our county’s biggest obstacle regarding equity is standing in front of many classrooms. Equity is about removing barriers and providing students equal access to a quality education,” Norden said online. “I continue to watch as teaching positions are reclassified into higher-paying central office positions. The result, bigger classes, and less money to pay teachers.”
Pushback from colleagues and administrators prompted Norden to run for the school board, albeit unsuccessfully. A review of emails conducted by The Daily Wire found that Norden received significant pushback from one of the equity leads, Jenkins.
On the night of Norden’s school board defeat, Jenkins posted to Facebook a “gif” that read, “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead.”
Norden responded online by creating a separate post that claimed, “This is our school leadership and a prime example of why I ran in the first place.” According to a local news outlet, for her response post, Norden says she was escorted out of her high school on November 25, 2019, for “harassment of colleagues.”
Norden was placed on “administrative leave pending the outcome of [an] investigation of [her] conduct and alleged harassment of colleagues.” She claims that it was not only the one post about Jenkins but her multiple critiques of Deep Equity training that led to her temporary suspension.
On December 16, 2019, Norden met with the human resources department and was told that she could return as an English teacher, after winter break, at a different high school within the district. She took the job.
Norden told The Daily Wire that, later, administrators and a school board member made a slew of left-wing posts online.
One such person, Alixandra Tate, the director of school counseling, used Twitter to express her support for the “anti-racism” movement and called for schools to “decenter whiteness.”
“Whole classes and programs on ‘urban’ education but not on ‘suburban’ education and how to decenter whiteness and stop upholding white supremacy which are the actual problems,” Tate said in one tweet.
“A reminder: the opposite of racism is not kindness,” the school counselor continued.
Tate also condemned school districts for celebrating Dr. Suess.
School board member Raymond Duke Bland posted his opinions via Facebook. He expressed his support for the Black Lives Matter movement and his disdain for former President Donald Trump online. He also posted his support for Colin Kaepernick and insinuated that violent BLM riots were okay.
According to Norden, Tate and Bland have not been condemned by the FCPS administration for their overtly political posts.
Norden resigned from her teaching position in 2021 after consistent pushback from colleagues and administrators over her anti-Deep Equity positions.
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This article has been updated to accurately reflect Major Warner’s title.