Henley Principal Beth Costa responded to Breitbart News’s request for comment, saying: “Out of respect for Mr. Ferraro’s privacy rights, I will not disclose the substance of our conversation on why his year-to-year contract was not renewed. I can assure you that it had absolutely nothing to do with his ideological views.”
“The content of our advisory lessons at Henley has been and remains available on our web page. In several of my online discussions with parents, I encouraged parents to contact me if they had any questions about the purpose of our advisory lessons or wanted to review content. Parents always have had the right to opt their child out of an advisory lesson and at Henley, out of more than 870 students, there were 20 students, less than two percent of our enrollment, who were opted out of our courageous conversation lessons.”
A teacher at Joseph T. Henley Middle School in Albemarle County, Virginia, has been ousted for sharing the County’s “radical ideas” on Critical Race Theory (CRT) with parents.
Informing Parents of the Critical Race Theory Curriculum
Dan Ferraro, a sixth and seventh grade language arts teacher, shared Henley Middle School’s “Courageous Conversations About Race” slides with parents in an effort to be “transparent” and, as he described to Breitbart News, because he felt he had a “moral obligation” to do so. As a result, according to Ferraro, school Principal Beth Costa told him his “views were inconsistent with the direction of the school,” and that his contract would not be renewed for another year of teaching.
Breitbart News released an initial exposé using slides provided by Ferraro, reporting that Albemarle County Public Schools (ACPS) implemented a “radical ‘anti-racism’ policy aimed at ‘building the racial consciousness’ by requiring children to deconstruct their racial and sexual identities and ‘understand that anti-racism is an action’ for which they have a ‘personal responsibility.’”
While Costa and other County officials maintain the program is not Critical Race Theory, Ferraro told Breitbart News, “Although they say it’s not the curriculum, it is not a Critical Race Theory, it’s based in it, if you track it, it is.”
Ferraro, who now describes himself as an “anti-indoctrinationist,” told Breitbart News he disagreed with the content from the onset, saying a slide that quoted CRT purveyor Ibram X. Kendi explaining that “children are either going to learn racist or antiracist ideas … if we don’t actively protect them from this dangerous racist society, what do you think they will be taught?” was what tipped him off to the purpose of the new curriculum. (Emphasis added).
“That was the slide that caused me concern after a parent had emailed me on their own and told me that they … wanted to opt their child out,” he said. “When I saw that, before I even had talked to the other teachers, I just was kind of taken backwards, but … I was like, ‘Whoa, wait a minute. I’m not gonna teach kids that America is systemically racist.’”
Ferraro, who had been teaching at Henley for two years, described to Breitbart News how he framed the content for his students, saying, “It was a journey, so we’re gonna take this journey together. I started pulling out things from it that I thought could be the positive, and I said, ‘I really disagree with this guy [Kendi] … But he starts talking about a bias, we’re gonna learn about bias. So, I’m biased against this, because I think that it’s saying that you’re all racists, and I’m racist.’”
He told Breitbart News that he initially tried to make the best of the content he was provided to teach, but also felt it necessary to inform parents about what the school was planning to teach their children. To this end, Ferraro drafted an email to parents describing his discomfort with the curriculum while also sending them the slides he had access to in the school’s teacher portal, Schoology.
As parents became informed of the lesson plan, some requested to opt their children out of the curriculum. In an email exchange provided to Breitbart News, one parent told Ferraro, “I really feel that they should have given the parents more information and access to all the slides. I looked through them and … felt very uncomfortable.” Ferraro agreed, stating, “Honestly, I feel like, in a way, the ‘anti-racism’ actually causes more damage than good. I have no idea what the county is intending to do regarding this or why it was brought into action. I remember a time when schools worked hard to teach empathy and kindness at an early age, so students see their similarities as being more important than their differences.”
Despite his efforts at transparency, some parents reported the disclosure to Principal Beth Costa. One apparently pro-CRT parent replied to Ferraro’s characterization of the program, saying in part “I expect if I were a black child, I would feel reassured that racism is being addressed by our country through this material … True that the slides don’t pertain to everyone, but they are harmless and even helpful outside the topic of racism in terms of teaching kids to be less judgmental toward each other.” [Emphasis added].
As Breitbart News previously reported, however, “Albemarle County then issued its white students a ‘call to action’ in a video while simultaneously telling its black students that they ‘are shown over and over and over that [their] lives do not matter.’”
Commenting on the broader trajectory of the curriculum, Ferraro expressed to Breitbart News, “The whole concept is very controversial, to have kids talking about sexuality is one of the issues of gender associations and stuff like that, and I don’t think sixth graders need to be talking about that, honestly. But a lot of folks disagree, I guess, or people involved with CRT disagree. And the thing is that they try to hide that behind race.”
Ferraro’s email correspondence and general disagreement with CRT caught the radar of Costa, who promptly launched an investigation into the teacher for sharing classroom material with families. “So that email was really the crux … of what Dr. Costa was going for in terms of a disciplinary action because, for some reason, a lot of talk about being transparent to parents and building community, being partners, and as my partners with their child’s life and, let’s face it, they have a greater role and responsibility. … I saw very little about it, and it didn’t appear to me the parents had the opportunity to really opt out,” Ferraro told Breitbart News.
The Investigation and “Due Process” Meeting
At the conclusion of the investigation, Ferraro was brought in for a May 18 “due process” meeting in which he was given fewer than 24 hours notice as to the findings. The purpose of the meeting was for him to provide defense or comment on the findings of the investigation. In attendance were, at least, Ferraro, Costa, Assistant Principal Becky Fisher, Senior Human Resources Generalist Jennifer Weller Kim, and a witness of Ferraro’s choosing.
Costa has consistently maintained that Ferraro sent parents the “wrong slides,” and described her perspective in a performance evaluation provided to Breitbart News:
He misled his families to believe that they were kept from having access to the advisories and, because he sent the wrong slides, created a confusing and harmful situation. As a result, at least one student’s family, opted to keep their child out of the advisory lessons. They stated they did not have the time to review (the wrong lessons) and instead just kept the child from participating. Had Dan [Ferraro] communicated with me or any member of the administration, we could have ensured that we had a plan in place and we would have been able to recognize his error with looking at the wrong information. His actions in this situation were unacceptable at both the school and division level, as we strive to create an anti-racist school community. [Emphasis added].
Ferraro described the situation somewhat differently, telling Breitbart News, “[Costa] was like, ‘Well, no, where did you get that slide from?’ almost accusing me of making it up, and so I got it from the folder and she said, ‘Well, that’s not true,’” adding that they asked, “‘Can you show us where you go?’ And I went there and I was like, ‘This is where it was, but it’s a different slide now … This is like … six or seven days later.” In addition, many parents have told Breitbart News that they were in fact “kept from having access to the advisories,” at least until Ferraro’s disclosure.
According to Ferraro, Costa perpetually “updates” the slide decks. In this instance, within a week of Ferraro’s disclosure, the slides had been edited, changed, or deleted entirely. He also explained that, as a sixth and seventh grade teacher, he would never have had access to eighth grade slides, as they were not within his purview.
In a memorandum provided to Breitbart News detailing Ferraro’s “Investigation Findings,” the first offense was listed as follows: “You provided a draft 8th grade presentation to 7th grade families. These slides had not been finalized or approved and are not available in Schoology. … Evidence exists to sustain the finding of this allegation.”
However, when Ferraro inquired as to what evidence existed, the school’s allegation appeared to fall apart.
Ferraro provided Breitbart News with audio of his “due process” meeting — in which all parties consented to the recording — designed to discuss the findings of the investigation into his curriculum disclosure. On the subject of changing slides, Fisher can be heard saying, “If you log into Schoology right now, and I can pull it up on my phone, are things labeled now the same way as they were labeled when you found it? Some content has been added,” to which Ferraro replied, ““It’s added and changed, yeah. Well, some content was taken out of the slides, I believe, as well. The most controversial information was taken out.” (Emphasis added).
Fisher then added that “If the Department of Technology can tell us, ‘this is what was in this location on this date,’” to which Ferraro replied, “Regarding that, if that’s listed as evidence on here, has that procedure been done already? IT already went through this to provide the evidence that’s cited in this letter? Because, if they haven’t done it yet … it’s like putting the cart before the horse. They haven’t done it yet. You haven’t provided the evidence, but yet the letter says there is evidence?”
Ferraro told Breitbart News that he requested a forensic analysis of the Schoology program in order to show that the slides existed and were available to him at the time he sent them to parents. According to Costa, however, a mere comparison of the slides Ferraro sent to the new, edited slides showing that they were different constituted as evidence. “We actually acknowledged that with you last week when we met. You pulled it up, and you and I both had two different things, and we were trying to figure out how you had gone to find the slides that you found,” Costa said.
Shortly thereafter, and perhaps because of the knowledge of the conversation being recorded, Fisher chimed in, saying, “We can move on, as far as I’m concerned,” without resolving the issue of if the slides ever existed.
Unsatisfied, Ferraro reasserted to the room after a short exchange that “There is no evidence for number one.” Costa again maintained that the slides were “incorrect,” stating, “The evidence is in the email when the families got the incorrect slides.”
Once again, Ferraro pointed out the incoherence, inquiring, “How are you to prove that was an incorrect slide? That was a slide available to teachers in Schoology. … There were multiple teachers that have expressed they saw the same things, had similar feelings, and did not come forward because they were afraid of retaliation from administration for thinking differently than what was on that slide. … That would be part of an investigation. If you had investigated, you may have talked to other people, but probably did not.”
Later in the meeting, Costa asserted that, “All you had to do was ask anyone on the team and share your concerns before you took a copy of the wrong slides, sent them out, made the assumption that they were not allowed to be previewed by families, which had been stated in several ‘Coffee with Costas’ and the Blackboard Connect, where the scope and sequence of the entirety of the lessons was sent out.”
In response, Ferraro asked, “Did those share the premise that there is an evil and systemic racist society in the United States?” This question was met with total silence.
No one from the school administration responded to a request for comment from Breitbart News.
An “Unsafe Environment for Students”
In Ferraro’s performance evaluation, Costa appeared to provide several misleading statements and asserted Ferraro “set up an unsafe environment for students”:
The primary reason for the “needs improvement” is that Dan moved through the Advisory lessons quickly and, of his own admission, created an environment where students would have “not been surprised” to know that he disagreed with having conversations with students around identity, community, culture, and bias. At least two parents who received an email from him dated 5/10 expressed concern that they[sic] student would not have an opportunity to talk about these important issues in a safe space. The staff engaged in this work together, for all students, and Dan’s inability to follow through or ask for assistance set up an unsafe environment for students. [Emphasis added].
Ferraro can be heard saying in the “due process” meeting, and also affirmed to Breitbart News, that he had no issues with teaching identity, community, culture, or bias, as these concepts were longstanding topics going back to elementary school. Indeed, Ferraro told Breitbart News, “I believe in the sixth and seventh grade lesson, and it was more of ice breaker stuff and identity things that they’ve seen before. … I think it kind of grooms towards a more serious conversation later on, and then in the eighth grade level an even more serious conversation.”
The quote Costa references, however, is from a May 8 email to a parent, fully quoted above, in which Ferraro specifically states he believed “‘anti-racism’ actually causes more damage than good. … I remember a time when schools worked hard to teach empathy and kindness at an early age. … I am moving quickly through it, and let’s just say students would not be surprised to find out that I am in disagreement with this concept.”
Costa also claimed the “staff engaged in this work together,” but according to Ferraro, that is far from reality. In fact, many parents explained to Breitbart News that they were told there had been extensive training and preparation on the subject.
“So you had one meeting and that’s what they call training. … [Costa] said, ‘No, we talked about it, the staff meetings, we talked about it, we talked about what we’re gonna do and what we could do and how it’s uncomfortable,’ but we never talked about how to approach it with students,” Ferraro told Breitbart News. “The same day I got an email from [ACPS Superintendent] Dr. Haas — well, on his behalf — about, ‘Congratulations, you completed courageous conversations on race.’ And I had a certificate from it, and I was thinking, ‘What is this e-certificate from four months prior?’ and I had that with me and I said, ‘Well, is this the training?’ because this is not training. … And then he explains to me like, ‘No, that just says that you’ve read the policy and you know what the school policy is, and so you sign that you understood the policy.”
Ferraro detailed his frustration with the lack of training on the subject to Jennifer Weller Kim in a letter provided to Breitbart News:
In my professional opinion, To fully implement these types of lessons, a teacher would need more preparation and training than simply agreeing to having read a policy.
Academic support was sought within my department and teams. There was not much understanding or clarity amongst those teachers. We felt it would be best to go through with this quickly to avoid being in the position of talking to students about things that are not age appropriate. It has also been a feeling that expressing a different view than what was presented to teachers would not be tolerated. The survey asking for teachers to express concerns was intimidating to teachers because it stated, that “you must do this, not doing it is not an option.”
The school board required teachers to accept they read the policy under coercion, whether it was fully explained or understood.
Costa also states in the performance evaluation that “Dan [Ferraro] has had two signifcant[sic] incidents that directly contradict the climate and environment we strive for at Henley Middle School. Our goals do not appear to be in line with Dan’s philosophy or goals.” [Emphasis added].
The other “significant incident” Costa mentions references an unrelated “oral reprimand” Ferraro received in the year prior in which he had a disagreement with a colleague that, according to Ferraro, began with the colleague “aggressively” confronting him in the middle of class in front of students. After putting him on paid leave for the duration of the investigation, the school appeared to have found wrongdoing on the part of Ferraro, and provided him with an “improvement plan” and a contract extension. By the time of the new school year, in which Ferraro switched departments from special education to language arts — and with the effects the coronavirus pandemic had on public schooling — Ferraro explained that Costa had discontinued the improvement plan.
“Yeah, I would have thought that I was kind of free and clear, especially at the point when she said, ‘Hey, we don’t even need to worry about the improvement plan,’” adding that she expressed, “‘You’re doing great in the classroom, so we’re not gonna continue with that,’ so I figured… Alright, I’m good.”
In an apparent instance of inconsistency, Costa added in the very same performance evaluation that, “On the whole, Dan worked to maintain a safe and effective learning environment. Upon return to Stage 4, he followed all protocols and worked to ensure that the hybrid and virtual students felt like one classroom.”
“You Don’t Go Against What the Administration Wants”
“Well, that’s the culture of the school,” Ferraro told Breitbart News. “I was looking for a way to work with you guys without going to you and directly saying anything that can jeopardize my job, and I was like ‘man, that’s a culture.’”
Ferraro said he explained this to Costa, but she did not take the comment well. “She was like, ‘I firmly disagree with you. Who told you that?’ … So, she’s already trying to think about who is responsible.”
“You have to agree with everything wholeheartedly that they want you to,” he said, before describing his conversations with other teachers about the culture of the school.
“‘It’s not just on you. They can’t go after you for that,’” Ferraro said one teacher told him. “I say, ‘Well, they’re looking for a scapegoat and they found one … And the reason they found one is because I had a disciplinary action the year before.’”
Ferraro went on to describe how the school handled the decision not to renew his contract. He said in Albemarle County, teachers are strongly encouraged to resign as opposed to wait out the rest of the school year, as a non-renewal of contract might suggest. According to Ferraro, this is because human resources threatens to make public the reasons for the non-renewal.
“Basically, you’re under threat if you don’t resign,” Ferraro explained to Breitbart News, describing the process as “blacklisting.”
“And they’re threatening, ‘you’ll never work in this town again.’ … It’s bigger, it’s the region … Honestly, this is what it is: You’ll never work. You’ll never work again anywhere near your home,” he asserted.
[Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect Henley Principal Beth Costa’s response to a request for comment from Breitbart News.]