Many Americans, like the 68% majority who support the Supreme Court’s ruling against race-based college admissions (based on a January 2024 Gallup poll), are becoming weary of the constant drumbeat of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). The woke DEI agenda replaces equality with equity, merit with shallow skin-color representation, and free speech with ideological conformity.
Oftentimes, the woke agenda justifies the recruitment and promotion of woefully unqualified individuals to important leadership positions, which inevitably hurts the integrity and competitiveness of the institutions that hired these individuals. The rise and fall of the Superintendent Marian Kim Phelps of the Poway Unified School District (PUSD) is a perfect example of how ideology overtakes merit to damage public education and erode public trust.
In April 2017, Dr. Marian Kim Phelps was confirmed as the Superintendent for the PUSD, a top-performing K-12 public school district in San Diego. At the time, the school board had a split vote which selected Dr. Phelps over a more qualified but less “diverse” candidate for the role. Dr. Phelps, a DEI appointee who made $418,514 in pay and benefits last year, actively promoted antiracism, equity and restorative justice in the school district within her administration. The all-encompassing campaign to inculcate students and staff into upholding DEI and critical race theory has caused concerns and disapproval among parents and community members, while PUSD students’ test scores suffered.
Then, the struggles between PUSD’s equity-minded bureaucrats and those who want education, transparency and accountability reached a boiling point when a lawsuit was filed against Dr. Phelps, her entire leadership team and the PUSD Board in November 2023. The legal filing, along with a wave of organized grassroots protests, makes the case that Dr. Phelps engaged in conflict of interests and retaliated against those who challenged her questionable conduct. Specifically, Dr. Phelps launched a self-interested bid to help her daughter gain recognition and popularity in her high school softball team. Her dissenters charge that the school board intentionally covered up for Dr. Phelps to defend the status quo and their power structure, at the expense of integrity and public trust. Laughably, the scandal that brought down this superintendent started when she lashed out at students and staff for not clapping loudly enough for her daughter at a softball banquet.
In Poway, local organizing and legal risks worked hand in hand as the impetus for a long-overdue redress away from the DEI craze. Behind the grassroots campaign are courageous parents, students, teachers and residents who showed up at every school board meeting to demand an investigation into Dr. Phelps. The local community was activated and mobilized by the PUSD Community Watch (PCW), a local watchdog that has built trust and awareness on the issue.
This is a solid win for local stakeholders who organized effectively to exert consistent pressure on the leadership. It is also a cause to celebrate for those, including my group the Californians for Equal Rights Foundation (CFER), who believe that the key to win the culture war is strategic local organizing. In the case of Poway, we offered research analysis and technical support to the community watchdog. In the meantime, CFER President Frank Xu, a Poway resident, participated in the success by speaking up at PUSD’s board meetings on 11/9/2023, 11/15/2023, 12/14/2023(and again at the same meeting), and 1/18/2024.
Our strategy for winning the culture war, detailed during CFER’s 2023 conference, involves building up “Queen” organizations at the school district level to monitor education policies, organize parents and others, and effectively challenge the teachers’ unions. It has worked.
The deposing of a DEI educrat did not happen coincidentally or in a vacuum. This success story in Poway Unified also mirrors an earlier victory in the San Dieguito Union High School District, where its DEI-focused former superintendent was fired due to our efforts to educate and encourage parents. We are strategically moving forward in the ongoing culture war against illiberal forces and ideologies which are attacking America’s foundational values, parental rights and education. In time and with persistence, we shall prevail.
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