Parents packed the Sarasota County School Board board room last week in response to an educational video on systemic racism presented by a third-party instructional website the school district uses.
The nine minute video, found on the website BrainPOP, discusses racism; the deaths of George Floyd, Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown; and the history of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The animated video was used on the site’s current events section. It also encourages participation in protests and demonstrations that encourage reform.
“This isn’t about blaming the police,” a character in the video says. “When an officer abuses their power, that’s just a symptom. The problem is much more widespread than that, which is why we need everybody’s help to change things, and that’s what these protests are about.”
The video begins with a disclaimer that it explores a sensitive subject and should be watched and discussed with an adult.
Despite the video being optional, parents said the district is addressing issues that should be left to the parents.
Parent Kristin Brooks said the district should send home consent forms before showing videos on subjects like BLM, LGBTQ rights and addiction.
“All of these things fall into a category where parents are responsible for teaching their children,” she said. “This is very important. … Some kids are coming home at age 7 asking about things that parents aren’t ready for them to know about yet.”
Board member Bridget Ziegler posted the video to her Facebook page after she learned it was available to Sarasota students, which attracted hundreds of comments.
During the meeting, she asked Superintendent Brennan Asplen to look into what content is available to students in the district. Asplen acknowledged the video is sensitive but said it doesn’t reflect material taught in class.
“This in no way has to do with our overall curriculum; these are supplementary materials,” he said. “You can sort of look at it as a newspaper where students bring it and talk about an article and have debates.”
Despite some parents being against the content, several students spoke in favor of educational material highlighting the BLM movement. A petition circulating through the district contains more than 850 student signatures in favor of the content.
“We may have progressed past angry mobs, but here we are still fighting over equality 50 years later, just in a different format,” said Benjamin Casey, a graduate of Pine View. “We still have flaws, as we always will, but the only way to attempt to fix these flaws is education.”
Asplen said the district will remove the video from its BrainPOP offerings, though parents who wish to show it to their children can request it from the district. Asplen said the district will do this with any video on the site that includes sensitive material.
“I decided to restrict that access for students, so they can’t go on there without the adult access because it even says you need to have an adult to access it,” Asplen said. “But I want to make sure we don’t censor it either because I understand we do have families who want access to that particular material.”
Asplen said the curriculum department will look at the district’s supplemental resources to check for other sensitive material.