Darien Schools Superintendent Alan Addley responded strongly to criticisms from a Fox News host who accused the district of sharing the website of what the host called a “hate group” as a resource.

In a statement issued to The Darien Times, Addley said “the implication by the media last night that Darien Public Schools and any of its staff is pushing an agenda or aligning itself with hate organizations is inaccurate, a false representation of the facts and offensive to the professionalism of our staff, the discernment of our talented students and the supportive work of our school community in the diversity arena.”

“The recognition that the District is addressing issues of racism, hate, violence, empathy and acceptance is absolutely correct,” Addley said. His full comment to The Darien Times is at the end of the story.

The response came after Fox News talk show host Tucker Carlson took issue with one of those sources emailed to parents by Darien High School Principal Ellen Dunn on his show Friday night.

“Even though our students are in an eLearning environment, this remains a teachable moment for our young people. As educators, where developmentally appropriate, we have a moral responsibility to address these issues; that is what education is meant to do,” Addley said.

Dunn sent out a list of sources for parents to discuss the death of George Floyd and the protests since. Floyd is an African-American man who died in custody after a Minneapolis police officer was filmed kneeling on his neck for more than eight minutes.

In the letter, dated June 4, Dunn opens with “As events unfold around the country, the Darien Public School District joins other organizations and individuals in the call to action to address and end systemic racism.”

“We are amidst uncertainty on many fronts and the conversations we engage in with our children have never been more important. As a District, we are sharing resources with the community that will guide our work moving forward in the race conscious education of our students and support your discussions as families,” Dunn said. You can read Dunn’s entire letter here.

The first source, Teaching Tolerance, which Dunn called “a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center,” in particular, was the one Carlson took issue with, calling the center a “hate group.”

You can watch the whole show here, and the clip about Darien is at about 5:38 in.

The segment

In his segment, Carlson, whose show Fox News describes on its home page as “the sworn enemy of lying, pomposity, smugness and group think,” began with describing the goal of a cult, which he said was “utter submission of its members.”

“Cult members surrender everything. They give up their physical freedom — where they can go, who they can see, how they can dress. But more than that, they give up control of their minds,” he said.

“The first thing they attack always is the family. Families are the main impediment to brainwashing and extremism. That’s true in every culture,” Carlson said.

“So, if you’re going to control individuals, if you’re going to transform free people into compliant robots, the first thing you must do is separate them from the ones who love them most,” he said.

“Why are we telling you this? Because it’s happening here,” Carlson said.

He then went on to show several examples of young people on social media venting frustration with their parents about their views on the current racial tensions and anger gripping the country.

This led him to the letter from Ellen Dunn, which you can read here.

“Yesterday at Darien High School in Connecticut, Principal Ellen Dunn sent an e-mail to parents in which he promised to increase the quote, ‘race conscious education of our students.’ In order to achieve that, Dunn distributed materials from the Southern Poverty Law Center,” Carlson said.

“Now, ironically, the Southern Poverty Law Center is itself a hate group that has been documented extensively, but now their agenda is the school’s agenda. It’s what your kids are learning,” Carlson said.

The letter

Dunn describes the Teaching Tolerance resources as “critical in helping children understand how to talk about race and accountability. Teaching Tolerance has collated a library of leveled student texts related to themes of understanding race and racism.”

The principal linked to the Teaching Tolerance site, which includes texts for students along with visual and multimedia material. Titles of offerings include “Literacy as Resistance,” “Chains,” and “Music and Customs.” The synopsis for a multimedia segment for elementary schoolers titled “The New Kid in Class,” explains “Mia can’t understand why the new kid, Amena, seems sad, but she learns a little empathy can go a long way.”

Dunn said the National Association for School psychologists has developed and released helpful information for educators in how to “proactively help children think about and process these difficult ideas.”

Southern Poverty Law Center

The SPLC is listed as a “left bias” leaning media according to Media Bias Fact Check.

Its stated mission on its site states, “The SPLC is dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society. Using litigation, education, and other forms of advocacy, the SPLC works toward the day when the ideals of equal justice and equal opportunity will be a reality.”

It has been the topic of both positive criticism and negative criticism in the media — the latter from both the left and right sides.

The SPLC has a list of “designated hate groups” viewable here. But in this Washington Post article, whether it judges hate fairly is questioned: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/magazine/wp/2018/11/08/feature/is-the-southern-poverty-law-center-judging-hate-fairly/

In March 2019, The New York Times reported the SPLC had “ousted” its founder, Morris Dees, after nearly half a century.

“Mr. Dees and the S.P.L.C. have been credited with undermining the influence of the Ku Klux Klan and extremist groups. But in recent years, the center has come under scrutiny for its classifications of ‘hate groups,’ and whether the organization has abused that label in pursuit of a political agenda or increased donations,” The Times reported.

Following that article, The New Yorker did a longer story about the firing you can read here.

In addition to hate and injustice, among the issues listed on the SPLC site that it champions are immigrant justice, children’s rights, LGBTQ rights, economic justice and criminal justice reform. You can read more here.

A Black Lives Matter protest in Darien is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday over the death of Floyd.

The Darien Times has reached out to SPLC for comment.

School response

In response to the program, Schools Superintendent Dr. Alan Addley issued the following statement that he asked to be printed in its entirety. Darien Board of Ed Chairman Tara Ochman and Vice Chairman David Dineen have not responded to a request for comment.

Addley’s letter:

The events of the past few weeks and the images on television have been very disturbing. In this midst of the national health crisis, racial tensions across the country are extremely high in response to the killing of Mr. George Floyd by police. It is very likely our students have witnessed these images through television or through social media and some are confused or have questions about issues of racism, hate, civil unrest and violence.

The communication sent out from the high school principal which was referenced last night on Fox News, was a District approved communication. It was sent out by all principals to all families in which a number of resources were shared with parents for their consideration should they wish to discuss these complex matters with their children. The implication by the media last night that Darien Public Schools and any of its staff is pushing an agenda or aligning itself with hate organizations is inaccurate, a false representation of the facts and offensive to the professionalism of our staff, the discernment of our talented students and the supportive work of our school community in the diversity arena. The recognition that the District is addressing issues of racism, hate, violence, empathy and acceptance is absolutely correct.

The regular school setting would ordinarily provide an emotionally safe environment for students to discuss these events and matters with their teachers. Even though our students are in an eLearning environment, this remains a teachable moment for our young people. As educators, where developmentally appropriate, we have a moral responsibility to address these issues; that is what education is meant to do. Our students are best positioned to take positions on such complex matters when accompanied by reflective discourse. Reflecting on these issues with our children as a school community will help contribute to safe and welcoming learning environments in our schools as well as contributing to a more accepting society.

I am extremely proud of the District’s work in the arena of equity and diversity and that we have administration with the courage and will to lead in this difficult arena, especially in the most challenging of times.