Recently, the Alabama Policy Institute (API) began a project to gather information from school board members from across the state to inform parents and the general public about how elected and appointed school board members felt about issues such as Critical Race Theory, Social Emotional Learning, school choice and education related equity.

One hundred thirty-eight public school districts in the state and over 800 school board members have been selected by election or appointment to lead our faculty and students toward successful academic outcomes. They were surveyed to learn more about their stances on issues facing school systems, teachers, parents and students.

Many members are seemingly uninterested in letting the public know their belief system or intentions. Ironically, many of the school systems that those uninterested school board members represent are back to school, which means public school employees are back to surveying children and gathering their data despite the apparent aversion to surveys of the adults who govern them. 

Over the summer, some students in Mountain Brook schools were given a survey that was called a test, and the test had no professed questions except for the multitude of questions (ahem, propositions) it required on subjects such as nationalism, climate change, race and property rights. 


It’s an election year, and there are more than a few heated city council and/or school board races around the state. Last week, before school started back, Mountain Brook employees issued a notice of refutation regarding the survey posted above and what they saw as mischaracterizations by city council candidates regarding inappropriate questions and content in Mountain Brook schools.


I don’t live there, but even I would like an explanation of why public school officials felt the need to use taxpayer funding to “explain themselves” in the middle of the summer; their internal documents and discussions should be public knowledge as they are public employees. If their public statements were directly tied to the increasingly chippy city council race, that needs to be known. If someone in elected office or running for office asked public employees to issue a statement with taxpayer funding, that needs to be known. Suppose no one asked them to make a statement. In that case, that may be even more concerning as it would constitute public employees unilaterally using state and local funds to participate in a political race that may impact their employment. Regardless, the test (survey) was bogus, the nonsense they claim doesn’t exist does exist, and SEL/Second Step are still a bigger priority than the three Rs as kids returned to school last week. 

This is an example of what Second Step teaches kids what their goals should be. Second Step is used throughout the state.


School officials and educrats from the State Board of Education on down claim there is no inappropriate conduct or content in any classroom in Alabama. Give me a break. They could possibly assert that they don’t have ample evidence of the critical theories or inappropriate content (debatable) or that the content parents are seeing and children are being subjected to are not in the state-approved curriculum (debatable), but they cannot prove neither are there. Grassroots parent groups are gathering documentation to submit to local and state school boards. After that, those boards need to offer recourse for parents whose students have been harmed. 

Why is the burden of proof on parents and/or children anyway? Shouldn’t elected officials and paid employees bear the burden of proof that they’re not in the business of coaching children to be social justice warriors? Perhaps the state or school officials should provide a system of reporting and consequential discipline for any administrator who allows questionable content and any teacher who promotes it. That’s the only way to root it out. Without transparency, there is no accountability. Without a system of accountability, there are no consequences. 

Despite the repeated assertions of school employees and board members otherwise, inappropriate questions and material are saturating our schools and impacting parents, students, and our entire state. 

This document is from the Mountain Brook System, which proudly lists its diversity education and activities system-wide. They’re not the only ones.


In the Huntsville school system, many adult school board members refuse to answer basic questions about their personal beliefs, but a school counselor declared her pronouns to children while asking for their pronouns in return, in an attempt to mitigate the “accidental misgendering” of minors: 


In the Mountain Brook school system, most of their school board members have ignored the API survey and attempt at transparency, but a seventh-grade teacher asked students to respond to a survey in this manner:

Some of the questions from the API survey are:

  • Do you have any children/grandchildren in the school district?

  • Are you in favor of the concept of whole child education (social-emotional learning)?  

  • Do you believe parents or schools should primarily guide students in matters of faith, values, and sexuality?

  • Should teachers and students be required to state their pronouns?

These aren’t gotcha questions, and, unlike Mountain Brook’s non-survey survey multiple choice answer test “without questions,” this survey actually isn’t a test. The API survey is simple, and the data will stay within the organization. In fact, API has committed to keeping responses in the aggregate and not name names. Can school systems demanding personal information from minors guarantee the same thing? Where are student answers held? Who has access to it? Is their personal data passed to any outside organizations? Do a child’s responses follow them through their academic career or their lifetime?

If school board members need a cheat sheet for their answers, there is plenty of information to help bolster responses. I won’t attempt to list all possible inappropriate material or hyper-sexualized content that might be lurking in classrooms or “mental health” surveys since this article is for family viewing, but the following are examples of critical theory currently being put into practice in K-Higher Ed Classrooms. Teachers, administrators, parents and students should take note as this is a long but not necessarily exhaustive list:

Assignments, training, messaging, lessons, administrative action, or classroom policy that treat members of one racial group differently from members of other racial groups due to their race.

Assignments or training that divide employees or students by gender or race or ask employees or students to evaluate or rank themselves by gender/race/status/privilege;

Any use of intersectional labels or tools in training, counseling, assemblies, or in the classroom; 

Any use of the term equity (guaranteed outcomes) in lieu of the term equality (guaranteed opportunities) and/or any policy that demands equity based upon demographics rather than outcomes based upon merit.

Assignments, training, or messaging that assert systemic racism and/or presume that American institutions were formed to or function in order to reinforce and/or perpetuate privilege;

Assignments, training, messaging, or lessons that teach students of color that the proverbial deck is stacked against them, that they inherently lack agency to shape their own destiny, or that they shouldn’t trust authority due to their race;

Assignments, training, messaging, or lessons that teach certain students that they were born racist, cannot escape racist tendencies, or are part of an oppressive class of people by virtue of their melanin content; lessons that teach certain students that they cannot be racist due to their race. 

Policies that encourage teachers to adopt “color conscious” teaching, testing, or disciplinary methods; 

Policies that punish protected speech or other lawful behavior because it may be perceived by a member of a particular group as a “micro-aggression.”

In the context of history or civics, lessons that assert the tenants of the debunked 1619 project, assertions that the Founding of America was inherently evil, and/or the assertion that that each successive generation of non-black Americans are oppressors who intentionally created and benefit from a systemically racist society.

Any policy, lesson, or training program that asserts that people of any specific marginalized group automatically share the same perspective and/or that their shared perspective or personal experience is inherently true and/or superior to factual information.

Let’s quit pretending these initiatives aren’t in our schools. They are. Many of them are not even new. It’s not a secret: school districts regularly tout their DEI bonafides as though they are proud that their school system is the most progressively oriented while minimizing academic orientation. If you agree that none of these things have a place in Alabama schools, please join those of us fighting against them on the local, state and national levels. The list is long, and the time is nigh. 

If any school board member overlooked the request for a response or is embarrassed that they haven’t taken the time to respond to the API survey while children in the school systems they represent have no choice but to answer surveys and test questions about their personal beliefs while simultaneously being subjected to theories that subvert critical thinking and objective truth, on those points we agree.

Parents, please ask your local school board member if they have responded: they represent you. If any school board member would still like to participate in the survey, they can email for a link. Children under your supervision are being asked for much, much more, so it seems to me it’s the very least that you can do. 

Stephanie Holden Smith is an experienced policy analyst, political commentator, and public speaker. Smith has worked and volunteered in Governmental Affairs in Alabama since 1997, including lobbying for a Fortune 500 company and serving as Deputy Director of Finance for the State of Alabama. She is currently the principal of Thatcher Coalition LLC. To contact Stephanie, please go to The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information

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