A substitute teacher for the Alamance-Burlington school system, Ed Priola – who also ran as a candidate for state house in the May 2022 Republican primary – told school board members Monday night that Graham High School is conducting a “study” that he believes is a smokescreen for indoctrinating students in leftist political ideology.
Priola told school board members during the public comments period of their meeting that he had been working as a substitute teacher at Graham High School last fall when he learned about the study. “I teach for the University of Maryland online graduate students [program],” he explained Monday night. “After the lockdown, I realized I really missed being in the classroom, so for the past six months, I’ve been a substitute across Alamance [county] and [in] most of the high [schools]. Last fall, I witnessed students receiving a handout about a mentoring program.”
Prior to their meeting Monday night, Priola emailed the seven school board members and ABSS administration a 66-page document detailing the activities of the organization, the Center for Supportive Schools (CSS) that he said is leading the “IMPACT study” at Graham High School. (The Alamance News subsequently obtained a copy of the 66-page document that Priola emailed to school board members.)
The 66-page document that Priola provided to the school board also contained multiple attachments, including an undated letter that directed parents who wished to opt their children out of the “IMPACT Study” to contact Graham High School assistant principal Summer Rogers.
“During the 2022-24 school years, 10th grade students at Graham High School will be participating in a study of the Achievement Mentoring program,” the letter stated. “Approximately 800 students will participate in this study. The purpose is to evaluate the Achievement Mentoring Program.” The letter stated that sophomores at Graham High School would be randomly selected to participate in the study and would receive up to a maximum of $30, in the form of three $10 gift cards, in exchange for their participation.
None of the extensive documentation that Priola provided to the board, and which the newspaper reviewed, indicates that any public notice was ever given about the “study” at Graham High School.
Other documents the newspaper located on the CSS website suggest that the “Achievement Mentoring” study is intended to identify students who are at-risk for dropping out of high school, which is part of the role of the ABSS student support services and “school leadership” departments. The Princeton, New Jersey-based CSS describes itself as a nonprofit organization that provides schools with “solutions that enable and inspire students to become more engaged learners; develop positive social-emotional and healthy behaviors; and navigate pivotal transitions.”
A separate 30-page document from CSS, “Connecting Through Conversations: Short Activities for Mentors,” describes various exercises “mentors” can use to build relationships with students,” based on what the organization says is research-based evidence showing that students “are more likely to attend school when they feel connected to caring adults or fellow students.”
During a break in the meeting Monday night, ABSS superintendent Dr. Dain Butler told The Alamance News that the “IMPACT Study” program appeared to have been launched at Graham High School before he began his tenure as superintendent in July 2022.
However, Priola provided the school board with a raft of documents, which he said demonstrates that CSS’ real emphasis is indoctrination. As an example, he included with his 66-page presentation an advertisement for a Southern regional program director – whose territory he said includes North Carolina and Alamance County – posted by CSS in November 2022.
In a cover note he included with the 66-page presentation he emailed to the school board, Priola stated, “This advertisement categorically stipulates that candidates must embrace the following ideology: ‘Anti-black racism and white supremacy is pertinent and pervasive. It is woven into the fabric of our society and reflected in every institution and organization in the U.S. including institutions and organizations that identify as progressive and committed to social change like schools, grassroots organizations, and non-profit organizations. To mitigate harm, organizations like CSS must take an active approach to dismantling racism and white supremacy, both internally and externally.”
The letter notifying Graham High School parents about the study provided few details about what kind of information would be collected, but did note that students’ names would be withheld from any future reports. The letter also stated that a policy and research group (PRG) within the nonprofit running the study, CSS, “will receive individual-level education records from the school for students participating, including enrollment and withdrawal information, attendance, student demographics, discipline data, and courses attempted and passed.”
Priola questioned Monday night whether the collection of individual students’ information violated federal education privacy laws. He also pointed out that a separate federal regulation that involves “human subject research” requires “informed consent” of the subjects’ “authorized representative” – in this case, the parents or guardians of any 10th-graders at Graham High School who may have been chosen to participate in the study.
“Parents have a right to expect that the adults who oversee their children’s education are [open and honest about the content of instruction],” Priola told the board during public comments. He insisted that his research had revealed that the study at Graham High School is being run by a “far-left front group whose primary purpose is the indoctrination of students through the ideology of Critical Race Theory,” adding, “This is why the project should be halted and investigated, if necessary.”
“In the case of CSS’s research program at Graham High School, the research subjects are minors – 10th grade students – who cannot legitimately give their consent,” Priola wrote in his cover note to the board. He also asked the board how many parents were fully informed about their children’s participation in the study; how many parents opted out; why a survey being used for the study at Graham High School is password-protected; and specifically, what is the Achievement Mentoring” program teaching Alamance County children.
Priola : CSS’ mission is ‘dismantling systemic racism’
The presentation that school board members received prior to their meeting Monday night also included a document that Priola later said during the school board’s public comments period demonstrates CSS’ mission.
“We are committed to antiracism,” the document stated, which Priola told the board that CSS had included as part of its job description for a Southern regional program manager. “Our vision for students will not be realized absent the dismantling of systemic racism that permeates schools and society. Schools are not safe, supportive, engaging, and inspiring unless they address all areas of marginalization and eradicate all the many interconnected forms of oppression. CSS’s focus on antiracism results from the outsized roll that racism has played in the shaping of the United States and its institutions, from the fact that racism intersects with all other forms of oppression and given that which we learn and develop – tools, frameworks, resources – in dismantling racism can be leveraged to abolish all other forms of oppression.”
Neither the board nor the superintendent typically responds to public comments, in keeping with an ABSS policy that governs public participation in school board meetings.
However, Butler had ABSS public information officer Les Atkins provide the newspaper with a statement that appeared to have been prepared in advance of Priola’s comments to the board Monday night.
Study authorized by previous ABSS administration
“We recently learned the previous ABSS administration approved a program specifically for Graham High School in a partnership with the Center for Supportive Schools without the knowledge or approval from the Board of Education,” Atkins wrote in his statement. “While we are working diligently to gather information about the program and its purpose, we have learned the project was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education with the intent to mentor at-risk students. It is important to note the project ends this year and will not be renewed.”
Contacted by the newspaper Wednesday, Priola said he’d received an email response Tuesday night from school board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves, thanking him for the 66-page presentation he provided to each of the school board members and for the opportunity to “explore this matter,” as he put it.
Priola said the chairman assured him in her email, “”This program and its sponsor (CSS) was not presented to the board for consideration and approval prior to its inception,” and would not be renewed.
Priola told the newspaper Wednesday, “I am troubled by what Ellington-Graves did not say. For example, nothing was mentioned about whether the program would be permitted to complete the second year of the current contract. She also did not discuss how the problems of releasing sensitive student records or the ‘effective informed consent’ of parents will be resolved.”
The ABSS administration had not responded by press time to a half-dozen questions, specific to the study at Graham High School that The Alamance News had posed Monday night.