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Peoria Public Schools explain the ‘controversial question’ on distance learning assignment, needed context

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(PEORIA) WEEK - A social studies course from Peoria Schools, by way of a third party virtual textbook, came under fire this week for alleged racist undertones.

Ladayijah Jemison took to social media Wednesday to show a question posed on an auditory exercise that asked her kindergartner, to identify details about families. Among the questions asked, was "which photo has a dad?"

The two photo answers included what appeared to be a Black woman and child in one picture and a White man, teenage girl and boy.

But Peoria Public Schools Superintendent. Dr. Sharon Desmouslin-Kherat acknowledged the question required some clarification, further explaining it was just one in a series of questions about the pair of images.

Other questions included "Which family has a mom? Which family has a dad? Which family has a baby?"

Wednesday Dr. Kherat released an initial statement sharing her concern and shock, offering a personal anecdote in our initial story.

"What was presented in that lesson was totally out of touch.
My own family would not have been selected because it was just my mom and us kids growing up. There are many make-ups to families -- one mom, one dad, two moms, two dads, grandparents, foster parents. "

-Dr. Kherat

Kherat's statement went on to explain the lesson was not intended to be divisive, but the exact opposite; instead to embrace, recognize and probe children to recognize the diversity of families.

However, a deeper dive into the content provider, Acellus, shows a handful of schools in other parts of the country, dropped the virtual learning program over claims of unsuitable content.

For example, one claim is in response to a video of a tutor displaying a gun, trying to explain what the letter 'G' sounds like.

Another video, flagged as 'unprofessional', though not published, includes a virtual gym teacher offering a seemingly sensual invitation for children to get excited about PE. The woman whispers "I'll be your personal helper. If you ever need a little pick me up, come watch me."

This week, the owner of Acellus also acknowledged a slew of virtual lessons tagged as "racist or as having sexist content."

Peoria Public Schools spokesperson Thomas Bruch assured none of those issues were linked to PPS, adding the picture of the two families was the only incident that garnered a complaint, since they began using Acellus in 2019.

Dr. Kherat also explained the course curriculum is vetted by a committee of teachers and is the most adaptive and personalized option, that tracks students progress, offers math, science, social emotional learning and social studies, among a handful of other qualities.

"I stand by this program and I encourage feedback from parents." Kherat continued.

"We can't please everyone, but we'll continue to monitor it for sure. If there are some things are insensitive to certain groups, we'll call it to attention and ask that they make adjustments and I know they will."

The initial virtual question under the microscope was adjusted the same day as the complaint, upon Peoria Public Schools' request and Dr. Kherat explained to 25 News she would never tolerate any form of racism, or disrespect toward PPS families under any circumstance.


Lauren Melendez

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