Posted on January 15, 2024

‘Whitewashed’ Black History Courses Trigger Revolt in Missouri

Brooke Leigh Howard, Daily Beast, January 12, 2024

A large swathe of students, families, and activists have come together to organize against a Missouri school district after officials voted to do away with two elective classes in Black studies, a move some students say is grounded in uplifting and maintaining white supremacy.

Even after the board decided to bring the classes back one week after the meeting—vowing the courses would be taught from a “politicallyneutral” viewpoint—students have continued to fight against what they fear could be a “whitewashed curriculum.”

“[They] want to teach [Black history] from a whitewashed perspective,” education activist Heather Fleming told The Daily Beast, “that still deifies white supremacy.”

The Francis Howell School District in St. Charles County—just outside of St. Louis—held its monthly board meeting on Dec. 21, 2023. However, advocates for Black history and literature courses say some board members, including president Adam Bertrand and vice president Randy Cook, slid the vote onto the agenda in a last-minute, sneaky move.

“I’m really tired of the different things coming on at the last minute without sharing it with the other board members at an adequate time to look at things,” Francis Howell School District Director Janet Stiglich said before the vote to adopt the agenda. “That’s why I’m not approving this agenda. To have a change in an item agenda put on at 6 o’clock last night is not fair to any of us.”

The room erupted in applause.

During the nearly three-and-a-half-hour meeting, people in the crowd displayed signs saying “RESPECT FHSD DIVERSITY” and “SUPPORT OUR MARGINALIZED STUDENTS AND FAMILIES.” Issues concerning the LGBTQ+ community were also addressed, as meeting attendees waved transgender flags from their seats.


Ahead of the vote, board president Bertrand accused the Black studies classes of being influenced by Southern Poverty Law Center social justice standards for “teaching tolerance of anti-bias framework.” But despite a heavy barrage of attendees speaking out against the vote to remove the courses, board members voted 5-2 to nix them from the high school curriculum. Stiglich and district director Chad Lange attempted and failed to amend the agenda item to give students and families more time to speak out against the vote since it was introduced so late to the public. They were also the two dissenting votes.


Following the vote, students began to organize to protect Black studies in the district.

First, an online petition was launched by Harper Schneider, a sophomore at Francis Howell North.

“Francis Howell School District students have created this petition to voice our strong opposition to the board’s decision to remove Black History and Black Literature from our course offerings. We value learning about the history of all people and advocate for a diverse, equitable, and inclusive education for every student,” read the petition. “The removal of the Black History and Black Literature courses not only deprives students of understanding significant parts of American history, but also undermines the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion that are foundational in education and in the workforce. DEI is crucial for preparing students to be successful after graduation.”


On Dec. 28, a week after the board’s vote, Bertrand and district superintendent Kenneth Roumpos announced that the classes would be brought back—just modified to be more “politically neutral.”

“After thorough discussions, we believe that there is an appropriate path forward to offer Black History and Black Literature with an updated curriculum standard,” the statement posted to the district’s Facebook page read. “We are confident in our academic team’s ability to bring forth a curriculum that is rigorous and largely politically neutral—one that will meet the Board’s approval on a timeline that prevents interruption of course offerings.”

There were over 400 replies to the post, with many questioning how the classes could be “politically neutral.”

In an email to The Daily Beast, Cook said the classes used elements of critical race theory, which he complained about in a letter he wrote to the district board in 2021 before becoming a member. In the letter, Cook acknowledges critical race theory as a legal concept “that seeks to transform the relationship among race, racism, and power.” However, he also claimed that a major part of its framework is being told from the perspective of someone of color detailing their personal experiences about systemic oppression.

“A strong theme in the curriculum materials is the idea of a dominant culture. This could be Western civilization, Christianity, Europeans, heterosexuals, men (patriarchy), white men, etc,” Cook wrote.

Cook said he did not want “any courses using CRT as an underlying theme in the material.”

He said he raised his concerns about the Black courses with president Bertrand on Dec. 20, who decided to add the rescission of the classes to the district’s next meeting.


Students and teachers led a protest for inclusivity on Jan. 3, after the board president and superintendent announced the classes would be amended, according to St. Louis Post-Dispatch.


Fleming, a Black mother of children in Francis Howell School District, former teacher, and founder of Missouri Equity Education Partnership, said in an interview with The Daily Beast that the school board’s goal to create a “politicallyneutral” curriculum is impossible.

“There’s no part of African American history and literature that you can teach from a politically-neutral standpoint,” she said, “in a country that has politicized every aspect of our lives.”

Fleming explained that the only way to teach about the poetry of Phillis Wheatley, an early American poetess who was enslaved and stolen from Senegal, is to also provide context about racism during the 17th century and how American politicians didn’t think it was possible for Black people to write as eloquently as Wheatley could. (In fact, Wheatley was put on trial in Boston because she was accused of plagiarism.)

Fleming also detailed how the artistic and culture movement known as the Harlem Renaissance was birthed after the Red Summer of 1919 when race massacres were happening across the U.S. following the return of soldiers from the first World War.

“It won’t be Black history. It will be white history about Black events.”

Fleming, who’s originally from Tennessee, said that while her parents were kids, Black teachers were not allowed to educate white students.

“It would have been against the law for me to teach white children,” she said. “So, then to sit and say you’re going to teach about what my parents experienced in Tennessee, growing up, from a ‘politically-neutral’ perspective as if it hasn’t always been about politics, that was an insult. It was an insult to me. It was an insult to my experience. It was an insult to everything that I hope for my children. Their future too.”

Opponents of the school board’s agenda against the Black studies courses have another protest planned for Jan. 18—just after Martin Luther King Jr. day and ahead of the district’s next board meeting.

Students and allies say they’re going to keep the momentum going so that the community stays informed.