An Oregon grade school principal suggested in a newspaper interview that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches might be racially and culturally offensive.
“What about Somali or Hispanic students who might not eat sandwiches?” Verenice Gutierrez told the Portland Tribune.
Gutierrez, principal of Harvey Scott K-8 School, was being interviewed about the school district’s equity training program designed to narrow the achievement gap. The newspaper said she “picks up on the subtle language of racism every day” and used the peanut butter sandwich to illustrate her point.
“Another way would be to say: ‘Americans eat peanut butter and jelly, do you have anything like that?’ let them tell you,” she told the newspaper. “Maybe they eat torta. Or pita.”
The equity program is called “Courageous Conversation” and it involves taking educators through an intensive program so they can understand their own “white privilege,” the newspaper reported.
Robb Cowie, the communications director for Portland Public Schools told Fox News they were aware of the story and to their knowledge it was factually accurate.
“What we’re trying to do in our school district is to ensure that we have instruction that is meaningful and relevant to ever student in the classroom,” Cowie said.
In some cases, that means offering programs strictly for students of color.
The newspaper provided information about a drum corps that was set up for black and Latino boys. One parent complained that the class discriminated against women, Asians, whites and Native Americans.
Guitierrez defended the class and denied it was discriminatory.
“When white people do it, it is not a problem,” she told the Tribune. “But if it’s for kids of color, then it’s a problem? Break it down for me. That’s your white privilege, and your whiteness.”
Cowie said the district did not have a problem with the principal’s statements.
So does the school system provide clubs strictly for white students?
“I’m not aware of that in Portland,” he said.
“Big picture – what we are trying to encourage in our district – are educational experiences that are relevant that give kids support, encouragement, engagement,” Cowie said. “We are certainly not trying to create situations where students are excluded.”
He said the district was addressing the issue of so-called ‘white privilege’ to even the playing field so that all children have an opportunity succeed.
“It’s an understanding that families and students come into the educational setting with different backgrounds and different strengths and in some cases different advantages,” he said. “That translates into different educational outcomes.”
Cowie said the district wants to narrow the achievement gap for “students of color.”
“Persistently we have not done a good enough job educating students of color and specifically African-American students,” he told Fox News. “That’s what the program is addressing. How can we find a way to support African American students, their families – so that we are producing better outcomes and narrowing the achievement gap.”
The story generated a number of comments from local residents outraged over the equity training program. One reader suggested that under the school’s policies, the phrase “American as apple pie” could be considered offensive.
“I am sick of progressives’ attacks on our culture. I am offended when people coming to our country find it necessary to denigrate our culture and teachers who are teaching our children somehow feel like they have to apologize for being American,” the reader wrote.
Another wrote: “Teaching against peanut butter sandwiches and white privilege is critical thinking? No – that is racism and radical activism.”
And that brings us back to the peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
“It’s not really about a sandwich,” he said. “It’s about how do we reach kids and speak to them through experiences that are meaningful to them – that are understandable to them so that they have an entry point into the curriculum and can engage in learning.”
He said they don’t want to make any student feel unwelcomed – intentionally or unintentionally that might disconnect a child or a family from the educational system – even if it’s a PB&J.
“Certainly a sandwich isn’t going to do it in itself,” he said. “But it is one of those things that we want to be aware of in all aspects of our instructional practice.”