Sun Prairie Area School District’s use of American Family Insurance grant funds to promote programs that appear to be exclusively for black students is an attempt to launder race discrimination, a public interest law firm attorney told The Wisconsin Daily Star.
Documents obtained by The Star News Network show Madison-based American Family Insurance cut a check for $35,000 to fund a cross-country field trip in October for Sun Prairie East High School students to visit Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU).
“Thank you so much for the willingness to donate $35,000.00. We are grateful and excited to have your support. I will pass this information on to our Business Finance Office so that they can proceed with submitting the invoice,” wrote Michael Morgan, the district’s director of Systemic Equity & Inclusion in an October 10 email to Maggie Pascaly. Pascaly is AmFam’s Community and Social Impact director.
Pascaly referred all The Daily Star’s questions to the corporate media relations team, which has yet to respond to a follow-up request for comment.
Morgan had pitched some $200,000 in funding for diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives,including Dear Diary, a mentorship program offered to “middle school black girls.” He sought $20,000 annually to supplement the cost of adding the program at all of Sun Prairie’s secondary schools.
Morgan also requested $50,000 annually to help pay for the staffing support needed to lead Hip Hop High. The plan is to bring a music recording studio to each of Sun Prairie’s three high schools for students to develop skills related to the “art and production of music.”
And the Equity director asked for $120,000 to fund a restorative justice program “committed to disrupting inequities that contribute to the school to prison pipeline.”
“Engaging in system-wide learning and implementation around Restorative Practices, Circles, Restorative Justice, and alternatives to discipline will lead to more equitable outcomes for our black and brown students,” Morgan wrote in a Sept. 7 email to Pascaly.
Pascaly responded a few weeks later. While “all of these opportunities are important and impactful,” she wrote, American Family would not be able to fund them all. Instead, she offered the $35,000 “unrestricted donation” with the district welcome to apply the funding as it sees fit.
It appears the district saw fit to apply the money to the HBCU trip.
Expense reports show organizers spent a total of $41,035.98 on lodging, food and other expenses. Transportation through Lamers Bus Lines cost $10,775, and the bill for HBCU t-shirts topped $1,050. Students stayed in Nashville, Montgomery, AL, Atlanta, and Memphis, TN, according to the expense report. And the trip racked up an $890 bill for barbecue in Birmingham, $1,043 for more BBQ in Memphis, and $809 for pizza, among other meals. The statements show the leaders of the trip were excellent tippers, too. There’s also a bill for $650 to cover admission to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.
Sun Prairie Schools Superintendent Brad Saron did not return a request for comment.
In response to the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty’s requests for records and other information regarding the trip, Sun Prairie Area School District attorney Lori Lubinsky noted “this trip was funded through a grant provided by third party, with the sole exception of the send-off dinner.”
The district also sponsors the annual Black Excellence Achievement Makers (B.E.A.M) awards, “shining a beam/a ray of light on our Black students/adults.” In order to receive the awards, students must be members of the district’s Black Student Union.
Lubinksy informed WILL that any student may be a member of the Black Student Union, regardless of race. And the BEAM awards may be awarded to any student, regardless of race. The attorney told WILL deputy counsel Dan Lennington that “students who have not identified as black to the District have received a BEAM award.”
Lubinsky did not provide evidence of that in the documents.
According to the district, “Membership into BSU is open for any student that would like to improve themselves.” But it notes the Black Student Union is a “safe place for minority students to express, debate and celebrate black culture, history and politics.”
Lennington said it’s race discrimination and, in the case of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities trip, a private company is picking up the tab.
“Race discrimination is illegal and contrary to basic American values of equality and fairness. And attempting to launder the race discrimination by using private money does nothing to legitimize the practice,” the attorney said.“Instead of dividing up students by race, school districts should focus on achievement.”
Achievement is an issue in the Sun Prairie Area School District. The school system spends more than $16,000 per year per student — well above the state average — yet about 60 percent of students are not proficient in math or reading.
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M.D. Kittle is the National Political Editor for The Star News Network.
Photo “Michael Morgan” by Sun Prairie Schools.