Jefferson Parish School Board

Board members listen to public comment during a Jefferson Parish School Board meeting at the school district's Administration Building in Harvey, La., Wednesday, April 5, 2023. (Photo by Sophia Germer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

A prominent group of local Black women is urging the Jefferson Parish School Board to reject the use of PragerU videos in the classroom, arguing that the content produced by the right-wing nonprofit and endorsed by State Superintendent Cade Brumley perpetuates racial biases and distorts historical facts.

Wearing their signature red blazers, alumnae of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority appeared at Wednesday’s school board meeting less than two weeks after the state Department of Education announced it was partnering with PragerU to promote the use of its animated “edu-tainment” videos in the classroom.

In remarks shared with school board members, the New Orleans chapter president of the alumnae group, Belencia Breaux, described the PragerU videos as a form of “indoctrination” and said parents should be notified if and when the content is utilized in the classroom.

“PragerU openly acknowledges that its goal is to promote a conservative ideological viewpoint,” Breaux wrote. “As educators, your responsibility is to present balanced and comprehensive information.”

The comments are the first sign of a brewing backlash on a local level to Brumley’s decision to partner with PragerU, which says its “pro-American content” is guided by “Biblical values” and “rejecting woke culture.”

Breaux said her group, which includes over 700 members from Jefferson, Orleans and St. Bernard parishes, attended Wednesday’s meeting to put the entire community "on notice” that they’re concerned about the issue.

“We are not going anywhere, and we will be present,” she said in an interview.

As part of the partnership, PragerU created a 96-page guide for Louisiana educators, suggesting specific videos to go along with lessons on historical topics laid out in Louisiana’s newly implemented social studies standard, which Brumley calls the “Freedom Framework.”

Breaux argued that the videos have the potential to instill a “skewed understanding of history in our students, leading to racial insensitivity and misunderstanding.”

She pointed to a video in which a cartoon depiction of Frederick Douglass, the formerly enslaved abolitionist, defends the Founding Fathers’ stance on slavery and states there was “no real movement anywhere in the world to abolish slavery before the American founding.”

The video, Breaux wrote, “inaccurately portrays slavery as an accepted norm until the American abolitionist movement, completely ignoring significant global efforts to end slavery and minimizing the brutal reality of systemic racial oppression in the United States.”

Hattie Broussard, a social action co-chair for the alumnae group, said the PragerU videos are clearly trying to impose a political agenda on students.

“It’s being presented as if it is education, and it’s not. It’s ahistorical. It’s distorted. It’s disinformation, really,” she said.

Brumley's decision to partner with PragerU sparked an immediate response from Black state lawmakers, who condemned the move as a "concerted effort to infuse political indoctrination" in Louisiana schools.

The partnership also drew condemnation from the the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, which argued PragerU's materials could "create a dangerous and disruptive environment" for Black and Muslim students.

Google removed the PragerU app from its its Play Store last week, pointing to a short documentary titled "Dear Infidels: A Warning to America" which the tech giant said violated its policy on hate speech.?

The state Department of Education has emphasized that the PragerU videos are optional for teachers to use. That leaves open the possibility for local school boards to set their own policy on how the content is utilized.

In a brief interview Wednesday, Jefferson Parish Schools Superintendent James Gray said he hadn’t watched any of the videos but said his office would follow up with more information. A spokesperson didn’t respond to emailed questions. Before becoming state superintendent, Brumley served as superintendent of Jefferson Parish Schools. Gray was among his first hires.

Board member Steven Guitterrez at Wednesday’s meeting directed Gray to write up a formal response to Breaux’s concerns.

Editor's note: This story was updated on June 9, 2024 to clarify that PragerU created the 96-page guide for Louisiana educators.?

Email Blake Paterson at bpaterson@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter, @blakepater.

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