Teachers participate in training that compares suspension to slavery 

A controversial equity consultant is guiding Minnesota educators through a process of "learning and unlearning" this week.

Teachers from seven Minnesota school districts participate in a "Culturally Responsive School Leadership Academy" Thursday. (Culturally Responsive School Leadership Institute/Twitter)

Educators from across the state are gathering for a training this week with Dr. Muhammad Khalifa, a controversial equity consultant with a history of promoting theories like “Christian privilege.”

He also appears to work for a group founded by a prominent anti-Semite.

Khalifa first sparked controversy in Minnesota when he was hired in 2019 by Eastern Carver County Schools to conduct nearly $90,000 worth of equity work. A former University of Minnesota professor, Khalifa now works at Ohio State University and runs the Culturally Responsive School Leadership Institute.

He’s also listed as a senior fellow at the Yaqeen Institute, an Islamic think tank founded by Dr. Omar Suleiman, who once described Zionists as “the enemies of God,” compared Israel to Nazis, and denounced “apartheid Israel” as terrorists.

Educators from Robbinsdale, Columbia Heights, Edina, Richfield, Roseville, St. Louis Park, and West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan Area Schools are currently participating in a training program with Khalifa, according to Dr. Katie Pekel, who directs the Culturally Responsive School Leadership Academy with Khalifa.

Pekel’s husband is Dr. Kent Pekel, the interim superintendent of Rochester Public Schools.

According to the Child Protection League, the ongoing training is taking place at Richfield High School and is required for some teachers.

A handout from the equity academy asks teachers to reflect on how current school practices are “connected with earlier colonial or oppressive practices in U.S. history.”

One item on the document compares the “containment of Black bodies on enslavement plantations” to “normalizing the practice of sending Black students to in-school suspension spaces.”

Another handout instructs teachers on the various “expressions of whiteness,” such as “whiteness as fragile,” “whiteness as normal,” and “whiteness as niceness.”

The training program, called the Culturally Responsive School Leadership Academy, seeks to “challenge Whiteness and hegemonic epistemologies in schools,” according to infographics published by Khalifa’s group.

“Christianity was used as an excuse to classify Africans and indigenous peoples as ‘non-human.’ This thinking still influences the dehumanization of minoritized students,” another infographic states.

Khalifa is the author of a controversial pamphlet on “Islamophobia and Christian privilege,” which directs teachers to “infuse curriculum and school activities with intellectual traditions that originate in the Muslim World” and claims that, unlike Islam, Western religions are not “a way of life.”

In a 2016 article, Khalifa describes “culturally responsive school leadership” as a method that “encompasses aspects of antioppressive/racist leadership, transformative leadership, and social justice leadership, but pushes further.”

“For example, although these forms of leadership all focus on liberatory practices that resist oppression or marginalization and minoritized students, CRSL is not only liberatory and antioppressive, it is also affirmative, and seeks to identify and institutionalize practices that affirm Indigenous and authentic cultural practices of students,” that article states.

“So for instance, culturally responsive leaders — like antioppressive, transformative, social justice leaders — will challenge teaching and environments that marginalize students of color, and they will also identify, protect, institutionalize, and celebrate all cultural practices from these students.”

Khalifa’s organization plans to host a similar academy for teachers in White Bear Lake next month. On Twitter, the academy was described as a process of “learning and unlearning.”